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brill Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds* 

Garnik Asatrian 

Yerevan State University 


The article presents a thorough review of nearly all relevant aspects of Kurdish 
Studies concerning the ethnic history, identity, religion, language, and literature of 
the Kurds. Elaborating upon the respective issues, the author makes extensive use 
of all available data and materials, including ancient and mediaeval, particularly 
those never previously examined with regard to related topics. The objective ex- 
amination of most crucial problems of the field contributes to a better understand- 
ing of Kurdish prehistory, expanding, at the same time, the basic methodological 
concepts upon which further research should be grounded. Due to the politicised 
nature of Kurdological disciplines, many ideological elements of non-academic 
provenance, that have found their way into the scholarly milieu in recent decades 
and have become a constant set of stereotypes and cliches, have been highlighted in 
the paper. 


Kurds, Ethnic History of the Kurds, Religion of the Kurds, Ethnonyms Kurd and Kur- 
manj, Kurdish Language, Kurdish Literature, Plant-Names in Kurdish, Armenian in 
Kurdish, Early Kurdish-Armenian Contacts, Yezidi Identity, Zazas, Gurans 

To the Memory of 
Fridrik Thordarson and Karen Yuzbashian 

Introduction: Some Methodological Remarks 

Hardly any other field of Near Eastern Studies has ever been so politi- 
cised as the study of the history and culture of the Kurds, having pro- 
duced an industry of amateurs, with few rivals in other domains of Ori- 

I thank Martin Schwartz, Donald Stilo, and Uwe Biasing for their valuable com- 
ments on this paper. 

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2009 DPI: 10.1163/160984909X12476379007846 

2 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

entalistic knowledge. 1 In Oleg Vil'cevskij's view: "The Kurds were stud- 
ied inter alia by everyone and, therefore, (seriously), by no one" (vil'cev- 
skij 1945: 13; also Arakelova 2006: 153). This statement formulated more 
than half a century ago, still holds validity, to a certain extent, although 
during the following period Kurdology has registered serious achieve- 
ments, especially in the study of the social structure of Kurdish tribal 
society (see, e.g., Bruinessen 1992), 2 language and literature (see below), 
and ethnography (Nikitine 1956; Aristova 1990; etc.). Due to the highly 
politicised nature of the disciplines related to the Kurds, during recent 
decades many ideological elements of non-academic provenance have 
found their way into the academic milieu and created constant stereo- 
types and a set of cliches, which, in fact, have nothing to do with reality. 
In the course of examining the key points of Kurdish prehistory and cul- 
ture, we attempt — in this introductory part and throughout the text — 
to cursorily highlight some of these elements. 3 

The term Kurd, as an ethnonym, is traditionally applied to an ethnic 
conglomeration whose various parts reside in the bordering areas of a 
number of Near Eastern countries. The approximate number of this 
great and — in many aspects — not homogeneous mass, featured, none- 
theless, under the label of Kurds, constitutes around 20-23 million peo- 
ple. 4 The main areas of their habitat are: eastern parts of Turkey (7-8 

1 Amateurs (dilettantes), or mere pundits (in Russian terminology "the lovers of 
the country", lyubiteli kraya), have always been an integral part of any scientific mi- 
lieu, especially in the Humanities (history and linguistics in the first place). How- 
ever, if this concomitant trend usually forms a separate genre with its own rules and 
methods (on the analysis of this phenomenon in the Transcaucasian countries, see 
Zekiyan 2008), the amateurish drift in Kurdology — due to its overwhelming political 
constituent — has become a dominant and, in many aspects, the mainstream factor 
determinig the intrusive atmosphere of the field, its objectives, stylistic, and even 
scale of values. This state of affairs has been, indeed, a constant stumbling-block for 
several generations of Kurdologists, who tried to follow academic principles and 
methodology of research. One of my teachers, the late Prof. Isaak Tsukerman, used 
to warn every beginner that Kurdology is a "difficult area of study". I duly under- 
stood what Isaak Iosifovich had in mind only decades later. 

2 The minor and less symptomatic publications are omitted. 

3 1 have already discussed this problem, together with a brief critical history of 
Kurdology, including its so-called "political" constituent, in a paper published in 
Russian (see Asatrian 1998b). 

4 The heterogeneous nature of the Kurdish conglomeration is fairly manifested 
in its two almost equal divisions: the northern and southern, which speak different, 
mutually unintelligible dialects (see below, fn. 13), and have actually distinct cul- 
tural and sometimes even ethnic markers (for a common concept of Kurdish eth- 
nicity, see Bruinessen 1989; Kurdish ethnicity and identity issues are discussed also 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 3 

million), 5 Northern Iraq (4-5 million), western parts of Iran (5-6 million), 
and north and north-eastern parts of Syria (3-4 million). There are also 
Kurdish groups in the former USSR (around 60,000), concentrated 
mostly in Turkmenistan (for details, see Asatrian 2001: 41-42; also 
Vil'cevskij 1944; Minorsky 1945); and in the north-eastern regions of 
Iran, in Khorasan, having been forcibly settled there during the 17th- 
18th centuries (Madih 2007). In the beginning of the 20th century, there 
was a vast group of Kurds living in the territory of the present-day 
Azerbaijan Republic, assimilated later among the Azerbaijanis during 
the Soviet period (see Miiller, D. 2000). At present, in Armenia and 
Georgia, there live respectively 52,000 and 26,000 Yezidis, who are, in 
fact, a separate ethno-religious entity, with their own identity and eth- 
nic characteristics, though they speak a dialect of Kurdish, the so-called 
Kurmanji or Northern Kurdish (see Egiazarov 1891; Driver 1922a; Asa- 
trian/Poladian 1989; Asatrian 1999-2000a; Asatrian/Arakelova 2002: 17- 
21; Arakelova/Davtyan 2009; etc.). 6 

in Atabaki/Dorlejn 1990; Entessar 1991; idem 1992: 2-10). Although there is not yet 
any thorough research on the physical anthropology of the Kurds, the short study 
of Henry Field (1951), based on the data obtained from various Kurdish-inhabited 
areas, already shows that the anthropometric parameters of the Kurds (the stature, 
head measurements, cephalic index, and nasal profile and index) are different de- 
pending on the localities from which they hail. As comparative material, Field in- 
vestigates in the same paper the Lurs, Bakhtiaris, and Assyrians. It is of interest that 
recently some Israeli anthropologists from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, apply- 
ing new methods of analysis, point even to genetic affinities between a part of the 
Kurds and the Jews (see Oppenheim 2001; Traubman 2001; for a short survey of pre- 
vious work on Kurdish physical anthropology, see Bois 1981: 446-447; on the recent 
studies in the genetic affiliation of the Kurds, see Pstrusihska 2004). 

5 The Kurdish ethnic component in Turkey, according to Servet Mutlu's meticu- 
lous research, constituted 7,046 million in 1990, i.e. 12,60 percent of the country's 
total population (Mutlu 1996: 532; for a detailed list of various estimations of the 
number of Kurds in Turkey, see ibid.: 534; also Andrews/Benninghaus 1989: lllff.). 
Unfortunately, based upon a radically wrong view that "most Zaza-speakers regard 
themselves as Kurds" (ibid.: 519; on the Zaza identity, see Asatrian 1998a; Arakelova 
1999-2000), the author qualifies them as Kurds, incorporating two different groups 
into one. The figure he gives for the Kurds, as a matter of fact, includes the Zazas as 
well (and, of course, the Yezidis who speak Kurdish). 

6 Despite the bedlam created by Kurdish and Kurdophile groups all over the 
world around the so-called Yezidi "separatism", the Yezidis possess a strong aware- 
ness of belonging to a closed and esoteric community, which excludes eo ipso any 
"Kurdishness". This intrinsic feeling of unity and closeness is conspicuously ex- 
pressed in the following popular Yezidi saying: Navina ezdi, ezdizi diya xwa diva cawa 
ezdi; xuna ezdiya zi ezdiaya, i.e. "[There is no way to] become a Yezidi, a Yezidi is born 
from his mother as a Yezidi; the Yezidi blood is from the Yezidis". In order to dif- 

4 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

Generally, the number of Kurds cannot be estimated with certainty, 
as the statistical data provided in various sources are deliberately in- 
flated — in Kurdish publications — and diminished — by the respective 
states of their residence. Moreover, there is so far no proper census 
concerning the numerical aspect of the Kurdish presence in the areas of 
their habitation; such calculations have been carried out neither by the 
mentioned states nor by a non-governmental (Kurdish, or non-Kurdish) 
organisation (which is practically impossible as a private project). Usu- 
ally 30, or even 40 million is the common figure for the total number of 
the Kurds, which is, certainly, an overestimation, vigorously promoted, 
however, in Kurdish political circles. In fact, all the figures concerning 
the Kurds circulated in relevant publications — first and foremost in the 
political ones — have an obvious speculative character. In this regard, 
the figures I presented above, seem more realistic, as they are based on 
an objective evaluation (as far as possible) of the ethno-linguistic and 
historico-cultural realities of the region. The problem is that many eth- 

ferentiate themselves from the Kurds, the Yezidis even name their language — often 
referred to as the main marker of the Yezidis' Kurdish affiliation — Ezdiki (i.e. the 
Yezidi language), not Kurmanji, which is a common term for this dialect (see below). 
The situation resembles much of what can be observed in the Serbo-Croatian world. In 
any case, the whole history of the Yezidis is the history of their struggle against the 
Kurds, and it would be extremely difficult to surmount the many psychological bar- 
riers and differences of relevant markers (either emic or etic) standing in the way of 
the unification of these two separate Kurdish-speaking groups. It is obvious that the 
hostility towards everything Kurdish is one of the main emic markers of Yezidi 
identity; and, as far as this traditional enmity is mutual, then it becomes an etic 
marker as well. The Kurds and Yezidis in relation to each-other are, in actual fact, in 
the state of a complementary distribution, using a linguistic definition. The internal 
processes concerning the identity problem within the Yezidi community, as well as 
the Yezidi perceptions of their own history are clearly traced in recent publications 
by the religious and secular leaders of the community (see, e.g., Sex-K'alase 1995; 
Ankosi 1996; Amar 2001; idem 2006; Polatov 2005). The famous spiritual leader of the 
Transcaucasian Yezidis, Sheikh Hasane Kalash, concludes his book on the Yezidi re- 
ligious observances with the following admonishment to his compatriots, formu- 
lated in a straightforward Yezidi manner and simple stylistic: Am mtlatakf cukin, am 
bdrjddrin milate xwa, a'rf-a'date milate xwa h'izkin, wakT Jima'te mayin zf ma bagamkin. 
Yane no, milate basqa t'u waxtd ma nah'amlinin, h'iz nakin ujindna ma. Awe bezna ma: "K'a 
hun sdvd xwa cibuna, wakx sava ma civin?". WT waxti, ]\e xavardand ma we t'unava, ame 
sare xwa barzerkin, le we darangva— "We are a small nation; we are obliged to love our 
nation, the traditions of our nation, in order to be loved by other peoples; or else, 
other nations will never respect and appreciate us, and [will never] give us a way 
(lit. "place"). They will tell us: 'What have you been for yourself that would be for 
us?'. Then, we will not have anything to tell them; we will lean our heads, but it 
would be already too late" (Sex-K'alase 1995: 45). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 5 

nic groups living as enclaves, or in the vicinity of the Kurds, are tradi- 
tionally considered part of the Kurdish conglomeration: the Zazas or 
Dimilis (see Asatrian 1995a; Kehl-Bodrogi 1999), a people numbering 
around 4-5 million — in Turkey; the Gurans, Awromans (see Asatrian 
1995b), Lurs, Bakhtiaris, and Laks, total around 5-6 million — in Iran; and 
Assyro-Chaldaeans, Yezidis, and even Armenians — in Iraq and Syria. 
Here we witness a curious phenomenon: it seems almost all ethnic 
groups of the region — except Persians and Turkic-speaking elements — 
that turned out to be by God's will the neighbours of the Kurds, are tac- 
itly incorporated into the bulk of the Kurdish mass and, therefore, re- 
garded as Kurds, if such an approach is somehow justified for the Kurd- 
ish organisations pursuing political objectives, then for academic schol- 
arship and Western research centres (in the U.S., European countries, 
Russia), there is no ground for relying on deliberately inflated data. 7 

The language spoken by the Kurds belongs to the North-Western 
group of Iranian dialects. The languages of the Zazas in Dersim (Tunceli) 
and adjoining areas in Turkey, as well as those of Gurans, Awromans, 
and Bajalanis (dialects of Gurani) in Iran, are separate linguistic units 
(Mackenzie 1956; idem 1960; idem 1966; Asatrian 1990; idem 1995a and 
1995b; Selcan 1998; Paul 1998; see also Blau 1989b). The same can be said 
about the Luri dialects (Luri, Bakhtiari, Mamasani, etc.), which, unlike 
Kurdish, Zaza, and Gurani, belong to another branch of New West Ira- 
nian, the South-Western group. The historical background of attribut- 
ing the dialects of Gurani and Luri a Kurdish origin was probably the 
fact that since the late mediaeval period they were the languages of 
communication and written cultic poetry (that of the Ahl-i Haqq) in the 
Central and Southern Kurdish linguistic regions (see below). 

The overwhelming majority of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, the 
followers of the Shafi'i school of law. There are a considerable number 
of Twelver Imami Shi'as, as well as the adepts of Ahl-i Haqq ("People of 
the Truth") sect among the Kurds living in the Kermanshah and Kurdis- 
tan provinces of Iran. The other extreme Sh'ia sects known as Alevis 

7 In an analytic bulletin produced by a Russian research centre (Centr strategice- 
skogo razvitiya) affiliated with the Government of Russia (see Kurdskaya problema kak 
ob'ekt politiceskogo vnimaniya Rosii, December, 1996: l), the number of Kurds is esti- 
mated at 35 million. The "35 million" is, likely, the favourite figure of Russian ex- 
perts as regards to the disputable ethno-demographic issues. Some years ago, a Rus- 
sian official, referring to their diplomatic mission in Tehran, seriously insisted on 
the number of the "Azerbaijanis" (in fact, Turkic-speaking Iranian ethnic elements) 
in Iran to be equally "35 million"! (on the Turkic-speaking groups in Iran, not ex- 
ceeding in reality 9-10 million, see Amanolahi 2005). 

6 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

(Bektashi, etc.), also have many followers in the Kurdish-speaking areas 
of Turkey (on the religion of the Kurds, see in general Driver 1922a; Ni- 
kitine 1934; idem 1956: 207-255; Mackenzie 1962; Bois 1966; idem 1981: 
474-476; Bruinessen 1991; idem 1992: 23-25; idem 1999; on the Alevis, see 
Miiller, K. E. 1967; Olsson et al. 1998; White/jongerden 2003; etc.). 

The search for historical and cultural roots among the Kurdish 
elite — generally a normal phenomenon for ethnic groups during the 
stage of consolidation — resulted in the emergence of the so-called "pre- 
Islamic" religion of the Kurds, which has emanated predominantly from 
the Yezidi religion — as a matter of fact, a developed form of a mediaeval 
Sufi order (Asatrian 1999-2000a; Arakelova 2004). 

The mystical halo over the Yezidi religion, references to its pre-Is- 
lamic past, as well as to the so-called devil worshipping and other eso- 
teric legends — night orgies, etc. — became a fertile ground for fostering 
the Zoroastrian-Yezidi genetic continuity. In this regard, Zardust, or Zbr- 
dast, the Kurdish adaptation of the Prophet Zoroaster's Persian name, 
Zardust, acquired a large popularity among the Kurdish educated elite. 
Consequently, the language of the Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoro- 
astrians, was declared to be "Old Kurdish". Many Kurdish men of the 
pen did not fail to waste ink and paper in creating a huge corpus of "Av- 
estiana" in their mother tongue (cf., e.g., the late poet Cegerxun's se- 
lected poetry in several volumes called "Zend Avesta"). The manipula- 
tions around Zoroastrianism and the Avesta with references to Yez- 
idism became gradually a dominating view among the Kurdish intel- 
lectuals to such extent that they finally provoked the negative reaction 
of both the Zoroastrian clergy and many Yezidi spiritual leaders and 
sheikhs, who vehemently protested against the profanation of their 
faiths (see, e.g., Dadrawala, s.a). 8 

8 It is interesting to note that declarative claims on Yezidism to be the pre- 
Islamic Kurdish religion by no means diminished the traditional enmity of the Kurds 
towards the genuine adepts of this religion, the Yezidis. During the last two-three 
decades almost all Yezidi settlements in Turkey (in Mardin, Diarbekir, etc.) were 
devastated by the neighbouring Kurds; under the severe oppression of the latter, 
the Yezidis were forced to leave their native soil and immigrate to Germany. The 
same can be said, incidentally, about the other minorities living in the Kurdish 
environment — the Armenians, Assyro-Chaldaeans,Jews, etc. All of the tribesmen of 
the Ermenti Varto esireti, an Armenian kurdophone tribe, were ousted by the Kurds 
from their homeland and, suffering many hardships, eventually found refuge in the 
Netherlands. Usually, when describing this phenomenon, most authors use the term 
"Muslims"("persecutions by their Muslim neighbours", etc.) (see, e.g., Bruinessen 
1992: 24), which is an apparent euphemism aimed at avoiding the mention of Kurds 
in this context. In reality, indeed, the Yezidis were evicted from their land by the 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 7 

In point of fact, there is no evidence of any "Zoroastrian" vestiges in 
the Yezidi religion, which does not mean, however, that it is deprived of 
archaic ingredients (see Spat 2002; Arakelova 2004; eadem 2007a; Asa- 
trian/Arakelova 2004; Asatrian 2007). 

The pursuit of "ancient" roots in Kurdish culture by local pundits — 
and now also by some representatives of Western scholarship — has al- 
ways been limited to focusing on the universal elements found on the 
surface of many traditional Near Eastern cultures. The veneration of the 
sun and fire (a number of taboos against the pollution of the fireplace 
and fire in general) — a widespread element of primitive worship — be- 
came an "eloquent" testimony to the Zoroastrian religious background 
of the Yezidis (resp. Kurds); the bull sacrifice during festive events — 
again a common popular ritual among the peoples of the region — is 
evaluated as nothing less than a remnant of the Mithraic tauractony 
(Kreyenbroek 1995: 59-61). 9 The Kurds ("Proto-Kurds"!) in this regard 

Kurds, not by the Turkish Government, mythical "Muslims", or whoever (on the 
Kurdish threats to the Yezidis in general, see Ismail). 

' Cf. (Arakelova 2002: 65) "In the Yezidi tradition, the bull-sacrifice takes place 
on the fifth day of Jazne jamaiyya (Arabic 'ayd al jama'Tyya) — the feast of popular 
gathering, which is celebrated annually for a week starting from September 23, at 
Shaykh Shams' shrine in Lalesh. True, tauroctony is one of Mithra's main charac- 
teristics: he is over and again depicted as bull-slaying Mithra. However, we can 
hardly trace the Yezidi rite of the bull-sacrifice back to the Mithraic mysteries, or to 
the Old Iranian religious Weltanschauung in general. The analogy in such a multi-cul- 
tural ethnic-religious area as Northern Mesopotamia could be attributed to any in- 
direct influence: the idea of the bull-sacrifice could have various roots, including, of 
course, the Old Iranian ones. A bull as a cultic animal could have become the object 
of various rites in many traditions; this requires a very fastidious approach while in- 
terpreting the given cases. Moreover, the myth about the sacrifice of a bull, carried 
over from one tradition to another, can acquire a principally new content. It is not 
the "iconography" of the bull-slaying idea that must come first here, but the idea of 
the sacrifice itself. As the "icon", the scene, the rite itself, can pass unchanged from 
one tradition to another, it is still usually filled with another content, which is 
closer and clearer to the mentality of a new culture. It is just the idea, which is being 
transformed, when it transcends the scope of the authentic culture". I am sure, 
however, that the bull-slaying in the modern traditions of the region is merely con- 
ditioned by reasons of convenience and social positioning: no one would kill a 
chicken for a crowd of people! In the Caucasus, to kill a bull, especially of a marked 
colour (black or white), during the festive events and mourning ceremonies and fu- 
nerals, is a common practice (by the Armenians, e.g., see Xaratyan 1991) and also a 
matter of prestige. Deploringly, even such a great scholar as Wilhelm Eilers (1983: 
501) qualifies the Yezidi bull-sacrifice as a remnant of the Iranian antiquity (cf. "The 
sacrifice of the white bullocks in honour of the rising and setting sun is reminis- 
cent... of the Achaemenian era"), or, incidentally, the Peacock Angel— in fact, a sufi 

8 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

are even declared to be the main bearers of the Mithraic tradition in the 
region (see Kreyenbroek 2006). All the more, in a quite fresh publication 
(Kreyenbroek/Rashow 2005: 221-222), we witness a deliberate interpola- 
tion of "Kurdish" terms into the archaic liturgical Yezidi poetry aimed 
at giving the text a "Kurdish" flavour. The editors, instead of ezdlxana 
(meaning "the Yezidi community") in the original text, introduced a 
geographic term, Kurdistan, referring by that to the so-called "Yezidi 
cultural memory", having allegedly kept the reminiscences about the 
primordial "homeland" of this people in its remote folders. The problem 
is that if the forgery of historical documents, various amulets and 
parchments in "Old Kurdish" (see below) have always been an insepara- 
ble part of the history of Kurdish Studies, and are, therefore, predictable 
for a student of Kurdology, such intrusion upon the Yezidi authentic 
tradition is an absolutely new, unprecedented phenomenon — also in 
terms of the involvement of Western scholarship in the falsification (a 
detailed analysis of this phenomenon, see Arakelova/Voskanian 2007). 10 
The ancient history of the Kurds, as in case of many other Iranian 
ethnic groups (Baluchis, etc.), can be reconstructed but in a very tenta- 
tive and abstract form. Nothing is clearly known from the remote pe- 
riod of the history of the speakers of the proto-Kurdish dialects. As for 
the mediaeval period, an objective history of the Kurds will also entail 

element in Yezidism (see Asatrian/Arakelova 2003)— a manifestation of Ahriman 
(ibid.; see also Bivar 1998: 55ff.). 

10 One of the authors of the mentioned work, Mr. Khalil Jindy Rashow, a Ger- 
many-based kurdified Yezidi (who is, likely, the main "source" of all the Yezidi ma- 
terials, translations, etc. published in the last decades by the same group), is the 
framer of this astonishing statement (I quote the original text as it is formulated): 
"Die Yezidi gehoren zu den altesten menschlichen Gruppierungen, die in den irani- 
schen und indo-iranischen Gebieten wohnten. Das heiEt sie sind eine der altesten 
kurdischen Religionen, in der Region der groiSen Zivilisationen im Osten. Ihr Glaube 
ist alter als das Awesta und auch als der Veda" (Rashow 2003-2004: 123). It seems, 
however, that Mr. Rashow and, one may suppose his colleagues in Germany, are not 
alone in professing such a Credo. The "millennia long" history of the Yezidi religion 
and its "deeply rooted in Indo-Iranian antiquity" elements are also the basic idea of 
a Russian book on Yezidism published in 2005 by St. Petersburg University (for a de- 
tailed review of this book, see Arakelova 2007c; also for an English synopsis of it by 
the author, see Omarkhali 2004). In addition, the Oriental Faculty of the same Uni- 
versity (once a renowned centre of Oriental Studies) has recently published another 
"magnum opus" of a Kurdish author— this time on the Proto-Indo-European (sic!) 
reflexes in the nominal system of Kurdish (see Mamoyan 2007). A Russian author 
from Moscow has just attempted "to reveal" even a number of Nostratic (!) roots in 
the so-called "substrate vocabulary" (in fact, late Armenian borrowings) of Kurdish 
(for a summary of his paper, see Basharin 2008). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 9 

great predicaments — first of all because of the ambivalent semantics of 
the term Kurd in historical documents (see below), complicating the 
definition of the proper Kurds from other elements featured under the 
label Kurd in the multi-ethnic mosaic of the region. Moreover, "there is 
nothing more naive than the statement — very popular unfortunately 
not among the amateurs only — that a mention of whatever people in 
historical sources is per se the material for ethnic identification and for 
further ethnographic findings, and that the first attestation of an ethnic 
name in the relevant sources is an indication of the time of the forma- 
tion of the given people" (D'yakonov 1981: 90). In other words, not 
every occurrence of the term Kurd in the historical sources — especially 
those of the early period — are an explicit indicator of the Kurdish eth- 
nic element (see, e.g., Minorsky 1943: 75; also below). And even if, in 
certain contexts, this term reveals direct connotations of an ethnic 
name clearly denoting the ancestors of the contemporary Kurds, it does 
not mean yet that we are dealing with a well-shaped ethno-demo- 
graphic factor in the given period of time and space. In this regard, the 
identification of the relevant sources is a prerequisite for any research 
in the history of the Kurds — of the mediaeval period in the first place 
(for a general survey of the later texts related to Kurdish history, see 
Mardukh 1992). 

Neglecting this important methodological concept — deliberately or 
by ignorance — leads to the unavoidable failure of any scholarly re- 
search in the early history and culture of the Kurds. 11 

In the recent period of Kurdish history, a crucial point is defining the 
nature of the rebellions from the end of the 19th and up to the 20th cen- 
tury — from Sheikh Ubaydullah's revolt to Simko's (Simitko) mutiny. 
The overall labelling of these events as manifestations of the Kurdish 
national-liberation struggle against Turkish or Iranian suppressors is an 
essential element of the Kurdish identity-makers' ideology. The Soviet 
historiography of the Kurds is in the first place responsible for creating 
a common "national" characteristic for all these revolts, conditioned 
not only by the strivings of the Kurdish nationalist authors, but pre- 
dominantly stimulated by the official Soviet ideology regarding every 
more or less notable ethnic minority violence outside the so-called So- 
cialist camp as a prominent "national" upheaval against the ruling ma- 

11 A vivid example is "The History of Kurdistan" by a group of authors from the 
Russian Academy of Sciences, published several years ago in Moscow (for a detailed 
review, see Asatrian/Margarian 2003). Among the compilations of this kind one can 
remember also the phantasmagoric "Handbook" of M. Izady published in 1992 by 
"Taylor and Francis" in London (see the review in Strohmeyer 1994). 

10 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

jority, kind of a nacional'no-osvoboditel'naya bor'ba, or even dvizenie (see, 
e.g., Xalfin 1963; Dzalil 1966; Lazarev 1972; etc.; for a more substantiated 
view on some of these revolts, see Bruinessen 1981; idem 1983; idem 
1984; see also Lundgren 2007, and a review on it in Arakelova 2007b). 

With the Kurdish conglomeration, as I said above, far from being a 
homogeneous entity — either ethnically, culturally, or linguistically (see 
above, fn. 4; also fn. 13 below) — the basic component of the national 
doctrine of the Kurdish identity-makers has always remained the idea 
of the unified image of one nation, endowed respectively with one lan- 
guage and one culture. 12 The chimerical idea of this imagined unity has 
become further the fundament of Kurdish identity-making, resulting in 
the creation of fantastic ethnic and cultural prehistory, perversion of 
historical facts, falsification of linguistic data, etc. (for recent Western 
views on Kurdish identity, see Atabaki/Dorleijn 1990). 13 

12 Most of the issues concerning the history and processes of Kurdish identity- 
shaping are examined in the fundamental and highly illuminating monograph by 
Martin Strohmeier (2003), reviewed by Arakelova (2006). 

13 For depicting the picture of an allegedly unified language, the late Qanat Kur- 
doev, for instance, artificially introduced many lexemes from the Southern dia- 
lects—actually non-existent in the north— into his dictionary of Kurmanji (see Kur- 
doev I960). The PhD thesis of Amir Hassanpour on the standardisation of the Kurd- 
ish language, defended at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (Hassan- 
pour 1989), being, generally, a useful and informative work, still is not free of all 
defects typical of biased research: inclusion of Gurani, Zaza, and even Luri into the 
system of Kurdish dialects; presenting a map of the Kurdish-speaking areas, which 
covers the main part of the Near -Eastern region; repetition of all mythical informa- 
tion on the history and culture of the Kurds in the spirit of a staunch Kurdish na- 
tionalist pamphlet; etc. In examining the issue of the mutual intelligibility between 
the speakers of Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and Sorani (Southern Kurdish), the 
author states, for instance, that they "do communicate, with difficulty, in normal 
conversational situations" (ibid.: 24). Actually, the speakers of these dialects cannot 
communicate at all, even in "normal conversational situations". The mutual intelli- 
gibility degree between Kurmanji and Sorani is almost the same as between Persian 
and Pashto. In their turn, the speakers of these Kurdish dialects cannot converse 
with Zaza-speakers: for them the Zaza language sounds almost like Ossetic for a Per- 
sian-speaker (although to the ear of a Kurmanji-speaker Zaza is more familiar— due 
to the common vocabulary of Turkish and Kurdish origin). Gurani (with its dia- 
lects— Awromani, etc.) for a Kurmanji- or Sorani-speaker is again untelligible, but 
this time it is more recognisable for the speakers of Sorani, because of Persian bor- 
rowings occurring equally in both. On the whole, the speakers of all of these lan- 
guages and dialects, when communicating, prefer to rely on a third language: be it 
Persian, Arabic, or Turkish. Generally, the role of language in ethnicity is selectively 
interpreted by Kurdish identity-makers: in case of the Yezidis who speak Kurdish 
(Kurmanji), they focus on the unity of language as the main marker of ethnicity; but 
with regard to the Zazas, Gurans, or Lurs, the significance of language is dwindled to 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 11 


The language of the Kurds belongs to the North-Western group of Ira- 
nian. In reality, it is a huge mass of related dialects, lacking an over- 
dialectal Koivrj, which impedes mutual intelligibility and communication 
between its various parts (see above, fn. 13). The literary languages on 
the bases of the so-called Northern and Southern dialects do not have a 
normative character and, in their turn, are fixations of different inter- 
mediate sub-dialects within both northern and southern areas. Kurdish 
authors usually enlarge this dialect continuum by including some other 
Iranian dialects — Zaza, Gurani, and Luri — into it (see, e.g., Smirnova/ 
Eyubi 1998; idem 1999; Yusupova 1998; eadem 2002; etc. 14 ). There is no 
sound evidence, however, either linguistic or ethnographical, for ex- 
panding the Kurdish dialect area at the expense of other Iranian idi- 
oms — actually separate languages (see above). Zaza and Gurani consti- 
tute probably a part of the so-called Southern Caspian-Aturpatakan 
group of Iranian dialects, sort of a Sprachbund postulated by the author 
of this paper on the basis of a number of commonly shared exclusive — 
mostly lexical — isoglosses (see Asatrian 1990; see also below). As for Luri 
(Bakhtiari, etc.), generally regarded by Kurdish authors as a Kurdish 
dialect, it is related to the South-Western, "Persic" group and is a radi- 
cally different dialect, rather close to New Persian (see Vahman/ Asa- 
trian 1995: 8-13). 

The classification of the Kurdish dialects is not an easy task, despite 
the fact that there have been numerous attempts — mostly by Kurdish 
authors — to put them into a system. However, for the time being the 
commonly accepted classification of the Kurdish dialects is that of the 
late Prof. D. N. Mackenzie, the author of fundamental works in Kurdish 
dialectology (see Mackenzie 1961; idem 1961-1962; idem 1963a; idem 
1981), who distinguished three groups of dialects: Northern, Central, 
and Southern. More conservative, preserving a number of archaic fea- 
tures, is the first group represented, according to Mackenzie, by two 
sub-groups: North-Eastern and North-Western. The first includes dia- 
lects of Eastern Turkey, Hakkari, and Behdinan; the second — those of 
Bohtan, Diarbekir, and Sinjar. In the North-Eastern dialects, the idafa 
formant features as -ed, and in the North-Western as -en. The former is 

a secondary or even tertiary factor (if, of course, the Kurdish affiliation of these 
ethnic groups is not taken for granted). 

14 These people think that if they put the adjective kurdshj (i.e. "Kurdish") be- 
fore the name of a dialect, then it automatically becomes "Kurdish" (see the Biblio- 

12 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

derived from older *-endi consisting of -en, the oblique form of the plu- 
ral suffix -an, and the prepositional element -di, which is, probably, of 
Aramaic origin (see Cabolov 1978: 9; Asatrian 1989b: 303). 

The Central Kurdish dialects embrace Mukri, which is spoken in Iran, 
to the south of Lake Urmiya, and Sorani, to the west of Mukri, in the 
province of Erbil, in Iraq. 

The South Kurdish dialect group includes Kermanshahi, Ardalani, 
and Laki (Mackenzie 1963a; idem 1981; also Oranskij 1979: 35-36). How- 
ever, the characterisation of Laki as a Kurdish dialect raises serious ob- 
jections: having, indeed, a number of typical Kurdish features, it pos- 
sesses at the same time not less pronounced characteristics of Luri dia- 
lects. Presumably, we are dealing here with a mixed language forming a 
transitional link between the dialects of Kurdish and Luri. 

The Northern Kurdish dialects are usually given the term Kurmanji 
{kurmanji), an adjective from the ethnic name of the speakers of these 
dialects (see below). The Central and Southern Kurdish dialects are 
called Sorani {sorani), which is actually the name of a Central Kurdish 
dialect, derived from the name of the former principality of Soran (on 
the origin of this toponym, see Nawabi 1994). Another collective term 
for the latter groups is Kurdi (kurdi). 

Because of the considerable differences between Kurmanji and 
Sorani (or Kurdi), particularly the lack of mutual intelligibility (see 
above, fn. 13), some authors prefer to consider them as two separate, 
though closely related, languages with transitional dialects (see, e.g., 
Vil'cevskij 1944: 57; on language situation in the Kurdish-speaking re- 
gion, see Cabolov 1986; Mackenzie 1989). 

Northern Kurdish, otherwise Kurmanji, possesses a more archaic and 
authentic nature than the other dialects, which underwent considerable 
changes due to long-standing influence of Persian, Gurani, and Luri, 
and, maybe, the absorption of a certain Iranian substrate, as Mackenzie 
(1981: 479) suggests. Kurmanji preserves the case system (nomina- 
tive/oblique), category of gender (masculine/feminine) in nouns and 
pronouns and a possessive, or pseudo-ergative, construction of the past 
tenses with transitive verbs (see, e.g., Bynon 1979; for a historical sur- 
vey of this syntactic device in Iranian, see Asatrian 1989a: 25ff.). Both 
case and gender have been lost in Southern Kurdish; instead there are 
pronominal suffixes, lacking in Kurmanji, which are used in forming 
case relations. In the phonetic system an important distinctive feature 
is the phonological opposition of v and w in Kurmanji, while in Central 
and Southern Kurdish it is lost in favour of w (for more details on the 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 13 

differences between the dialects of Kurdish, see Mackenzie 1981; Asa- 
trian 2001: 44). 

The Armenian Traces in Kurmanji Phonetics 

The striking peculiarity of Northern Kurdish, more precisely of its 
North-Eastern sub-group spoken primarily in the former Armenian ter- 
ritories of the Ottoman Empire, is the emergence of a new series of un- 
aspirated phonemes (i.e. p, t, k, c) phonologically opposed to the related 
aspirated series (i.e. p' [p h ], t' [t h ], k' [k h ], c [c h ]) common for all Kurdish 
dialects (including those of Northern Kurdish, outside the borders of 
Historical Armenia), as well as the distinction between ordinary r and 
rolled f [rr] in such pairs as kafi "deafness"/ lean "piece; herd", kirin "to 
do"/ k'ifin "to buy", etc. This phenomenon is conditioned by the influ- 
ence of the Armenian substrate, which was a constant element during 
the whole period of the formation of the mentioned Kurdish dialects af- 
ter the penetration of the Kurds into Armenia (cf. Arm. unaspirated ^, 
™> #> ^ against aspirated ft, p, & & and/? vs. n). The divergent evolution 
or splitting of phonemes, leading to further phonemicisation of the 
variants of a phoneme, occurs as a rule under the influence of an alien 
substrate. In Ossetic, for instance, the Caucasian substrate accounts for 
the appearance of three separate phonemic reflexes of the Olran. *k, i.e. 
the aspirated k', ejective k', and fricative x (see Bailey 1963: 74; also 
Thordarson 1973: 87ff.; on the typologically similar phenomena, see 
Schmidt 1966: 13-14). 

The Suffix -ox/y 

The Armenian trace on this group of Kurdish dialects is found in mor- 
phology as well — although not as visible as in phonetical system, or in 
vocabulary (see below). The suffix -dy/x forming nomina agentis with the 
past stems of verbs, is certainly the Armenian formant -oy (classical 
Arm. -awl), which has the same function in literary Armenian and dia- 
lects (see Schmitt 1981: 85). I first encountered the verbal nouns with 
this suffix in the Kurdish rendering of the Gospels, 15 where they reveal a 
very high frequency of occurrence. The text is a literal, nearly verbatim 
copy of the Western Armenian version of the Gospels, although the 
translators, in effect, had a masterly command of Kurdish and its vo- 
cabulary. Moreover, almost all the forms with -oy in the Kurdish trans- 
lation correspond to the similar forms with -oy in the Western Arme- 
nian original, and to the descriptive phrases in the Classical Armenian 

lb Published in Armenian script in 1857 and 1911 in Constantinople (on the 
translators, see Mackenzie 1959: 355, fn. 2). 

14 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

version. Cf., e.g., Tova qanj azot-oy (lit. "sower", azotin "lead; sow") hire 
mifova = Bari serm c'anoya ordin mardoy e; but in Classical Arm.: Or serma- 
ne zsermn bari, e ordi mardoy - "He that soweth the good seed is the Son 
of man" (Matt. 13,37); Li tarida fonist-oy (lit. "the one who sits", fo/unistin 
"sit") jimat mazin di = Xawari me] nstoy zoyovurdd mec luys tesaw; in 
Class. Arm.: Zolovurd or nster i xawari, etes loys mec — "The people which 
sat in darkness saw great light" (ibid. 4,16); or WT zx wifa gotoy-fa (lit. 
"speaker, the one who speaks", gotin = New Western Arm. asoyin = Class. 
Arm. asac'n c'na) jivdb da u go — "But he answered and said unto him 
that told him" (ibid. 12.48); etc. 

The ample use of forms with -oy, coinciding with those in the New 
Armenian original, along with the complete lack of any previous infor- 
mation about the existence of this suffix in Kurdish, makes an initial 
impression that it must be a fabricated Armenism aimed at avoiding de- 
scriptive phrases. 16 1 thought it was an artificial innovation introduced 
by the Armenian translators. Later inquiry, however, has revealed a 
living usage of this formant — though sporadic and in a very limited 
zone — in some modern Kurdish publications originating presumably 
from the area around Lake Van. Cf., e.g. XwadT u cekir-oxe ("author", lit. 
"builder, constructer", cekirin "build, construct") we [k'itebe], Mir Saraf- 
xane BadlTsi, di said 1599-da nivisiya — "The owner and author of that 
[book], MSB, wrote [it] in the year of 1599" {Berbang [a Kurdish journal], 
N 3, 1984: 17); cf. also got-ox "speaker" {gotin "speak") = Zaza vat-ox 'id.', 
translated by Turkish soyleyici in a bilingual Zaza-Kurdish periodical (see 
Hevil: 121). 

To my knowledge, among hundreds of Kurmanji grammars, essays 
and manuals published since Garzoni (1787), there is only one describ- 
ing this suffix, though as a variant of the genuine Kurdish -ok (see Bedir 
Khan/Lescot 1970: 29). 17 The suffix -ox/y in Kurmanji, actually, cannot 
have any bearing upon the original -ok, as it forms nomina agentis from 
the past stem, while the latter functions with the present stem of a 
verb 18 and has a different origin, coming from Olran. *-aka- (for a de- 
tailed account, see Asatrian/Muradyan 1985: 143). Moreover, -ox/y is 
also found, with the same function, in Zaza, but, unlike in Kurmanji, it is 
an active morphological element here. Cf. siyayoy "the one who goes" 

16 I.e. azot-oy instead of aw ku dazo; fonist-oy instead of aw ku fo/udine; got-oy for 
aw hx dibeza (or awiku go(t)); etc. 

17 It is documented by a single example, eekirox "faiseur, fabriquant, auteur" 
(ibid), just mentioned above. 

13 Cf. gaz-ok "biter" (gastin "bite"), gaf-ok "wanderer, vagrant" (gann "wander, 
walk around"), bez-ok "speaker" (vs. got-ox/y, see above), etc. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 15 

{siyayis "to go"), vatox "speaker" (vatis "speak"), ku/istox "killer" (ku/istis 
"to kill"), wandox "reader" {wandis "to read"), kardox "doer" (kardis "to 
do"), etc. (for details, see Hadank 1932: 89, 92; Asatrian 1987: 169; idem 
1995a: 408; for more examples, see Tirej [a Zaza periodical], N 4, 1981: 

Distinctive Features of Kurdish 

In the face of a number of important factors, like the wider geographical 
expansion of Kurdish dialects; their intensive interactions with closely- 
related neighbouring Iranian idioms and languages; and in the situation 
of the absence of relevant extralinguistical criteria (such as a state, a 
common cultural heritage and literary tradition, and even, to a certain 
extent, a collective identity, etc.), etc., a principal question arises with 
regard to the possible linguistic definition of the Kurdish dialect group. 
In other words, how do the Kurdish dialects connect with each other, or 
are there any reliable criteria, a sort of "touchstone", for distinguishing 
dialects of Kurdish from those in the same region, having non-Kurdish 
affiliation? Mackenzie formulated four distinctive markers in historical 
phonology (see Mackenzie 1961: 70-71; idem 1963a: 163-164; also Blau 
1989a: 329), which are, indeed, shared as a system only by Kurdish dia- 
lects. These are: the transition of Olran. intervocalic *-m- to -v-/-w- (for 
details, see Asatrian/Livshits 1994: § XIX, 2); the loss of the initial con- 
sonants of the Olran. clusters *-sm- and *-xm-, resulting in a further de- 
velopment of -m- to -v-/-w- (ibid.: §X, 5, XIV, 2); Old Iran, initial *x- gives 
regularly in Kurdish k' or k (ibid.: §X, l); and the initial c- in the verb cun 
"to go", which is derived from Old Western-Iranian *syaw- (ibid.: §XI, 
4). 19 We can also add the change of the Olran. intervocalic *-s- to -h-/-0-, 
an exclusively Kurdish phonetic peculiarity passed over by Mackenzie 
(see Asatrian/Livshits 1994: §XIV, 2). 


The earliest written record in Kurdish (Kurmanji) is a small mono- 
physite liturgical prayer in Armenian script, attested in an Armenian 
manuscript from the Collection of Matanadaran in Yerevan (No 7117, 
folio 144b) and copied between 1430 and 1446 from a presumably older 

15 Hardly is it a case of the preservation of the initial *c- (cf. Olran. *cyaw-), as 
Mackenzie believes. I am more than sure that the initial c- in cun is the result of a 
further emphatisation of s- in early Kurdish *sun, a phonetic phenomenon attested 
in New Iranian (cf. Asatrian/Livshits 1994: §XI, 4), as well as in Parthian (see Sims- 
Williams 1979:136). 

16 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

original (about the manuscript, see Acarean 1984: 679-680; also Bailey 
1943: 4-5; Minorsky 1950; Henning 1958: 78; Mackenzie 1959; Jndi 1962: 
67; Asatrian 2001: 45). Mackenzie's (1959: 355) reconstruction of the text 
reads: Pakiz xude, pakiz zahm, pakiz vemarg, koy hatixace iz kir ma, fah'mate 
ma — "Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, who was crucified for us, 
show mercy to us (= eXerjaov rjp.dc)". The text is, likely, translated from 
Greek, as the Classical Arm. version has a conjunction before "Holy" and 
"strong"/"immortal" (cf. Surb Astuac, surb ewyzawr, surb ew anmah, etc.), 
lacking in the Kurdish rendering. Otherwise, we would have (...) *pakiz u 
zahm, pakiz u vemarg (...). 

These few words constitute all we have from the earliest periods of 
Kurdish, for the first Kurdish texts in Arabic script — mainly poetry — 
date back to the 16th-17th centuries (see Mackenzie 1969; Nebez 1975: 

Several small textual pieces, again in Kurmanji, are found in the old- 
est copy of the 17th century Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi's Seyahatna- 
me (presumably his autograph) (Bruinessen 1988), which reflect the spo- 
ken Kurmanji of the period (unlike the Kurdish poetry influenced by 
Classical Persian literature and abounding with Arabo-Persian borrow- 
ings). Of utmost interest is the sample of the so-called Rozhki dialect in 
the Seyahatname, which appeared to be a mixed Turkish-Armenian- 
Kurdish vernacular of Bitlis (Dankoff 1990: 18ff). 

Kurdish written literature emerged on the basis of Kurmanji and is 
manifested by such authors as Malaye Djiziri (circa 1570-1640), Faqiye 
Tayran (circa 1590-1660) (Mackenzie 1969; Rudenko 1965), 'Ali Tere- 
makhi (l6th-beginning of the 17th a), as well as Ahmade Khani (1650- 
1707), the author of the famous love poem "Mam and Zin" (see Rudenko 
1960; idem 1962; Bois 1981: 481-482; Khaznadar 1971; Nebez 1975). 

Already from the end of the 14th century, among the speakers of the 
Central and Southern Kurdish dialects, poetry — mostly of a religious na- 
ture — in Luri and later in Gurani, acquired widespread popularity. The 
Awromani dialect of Gurani became the sacral language of the Ahl-i- 
Haqq sect and was functioning as sort of a written language in the 
Southern Kurdish linguistic region. Sometimes, the whole sect was 
characterised by the term goran, as in case of Turkish-speaking Ahl-i- 
Haqqs in Azerbaijan (cf. Adjaryan 1998). The terms gorard and HawramT 
even now designate specific songs and a certain genre in poetry; also, 
probably, hu/ora, meaning tragic songs or mourning poetry (see Saflza- 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 17 

deh-Borakeyl 1998: 53-54, 94-98), must be a dialectal form of hawrami. 20 
Many Kurdish poets of the 17th-19th centuries, speakers of the Central 
and Southern Kurdish dialects, such as Male Mistafae Baserani (1641- 
1702), Khanae Qubadi (1700-1759), Mavlavi Tavgozi (1806-1882), and 
Vali Devana (1826-1881) wrote in Gurani (Nebez 1975: 100-101). 

The written literature in Sorani developed mainly during the 19th 
and flourished in the 20th century, especially in the Kurdish areas of 
Iraq (see Xaznadar 1967). 

Pseudoproto kwdica 

One of the most interesting products of Kurdish identity -makers in con- 
structing an ancient historical and cultural background for the Kurds is 
the famous "Suleimaniye Parchment of the 7th Century in Old Kurdish", 
a forged literary piece written allegedly in Pahlavi script and relating 
the hardships of the Arab invasion. It is said to have been found in 
Suleimaniye in Iraq. This poetic text, composed of four couplets, and its 
French translation were first brought to light by B. Nikitine with refer- 
ence to Sureya Bedr Khan (Nikitine 1934: 125, fn. 18). Later, the full text 
was published in Persian script by Rasid YasamI (1940: 119). From then 
onward, the legend about this "ancient Kurdish text" became a favour- 
ite motif in all the publications on Kurdish literature, including aca- 
demic writings (cf., e.g., Rudenko 1960: 434; Akopov 1968). Even after 
Mackenzie (1963b) had shown that this is a typical fake evoked by the 
discovery of the Avroman documents (see Nyberg 1923; Edmonds 1925; 
idem 1952; Henning 1958: 28-30), still the "Suleimaniye Parchment" re- 
mains a living artefact of "Kurdish antiquity", a permanent point of re- 
turn for all Kurdish authors trying to widen the recorded time-span of 
Kurdish history and culture (see, e.g., Xamoyan 1972). 


As mentioned in the introductory part of this writing, Kurds are Sunni 
Muslims of the Shafi'i mazhab, with a part following Twelver Imami and 
extreme Shi'a doctrines. The Yezidis are a different ethno-religious en- 
tity, and their religion, as was also discussed above, cannot be consid- 
ered within the framework of Kurdish religious and cultural realities. 

20 The term goranx penetrated also into the Northern dialects and denotes a lyri- 
cal genre in folk music and poetry; and through Kurmanji this term found its way to 
the Armenian folk culture as the name of a local musical genre called gorani or 
gyorani. Incidentally, the term goran in Southern Kurdish dialects currently in some 
contexts simply means "song" or "melody". 

18 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

However, leaving aside permanent claims on Yezidism to be the so- 
called pre-Islamic religion of the Kurds (see above), the latter — because 
of its esoterism — also sometimes becomes a source of eccentric and far- 
fetched theories and ideas (allegations about night orgies and promis- 
cuous relations, devil worshipping, incestuous habits, etc.). Most of 
these fantastic conjectures later proved to be false and have been aban- 
doned (see Arakelova 2008). 21 

Nonetheless, a curious story about the traces of donkey-worship 
amongst the Yezidis (meant as Kurds) is still haunting the thoughts of 
Kurdologists. The authors of this theory were J. Przyluski and B. Ni- 
kitine. The whole idea is formulated by the latter in his book on the 
Kurds (Nikitine 1956: 252-254). 

Once Przyluski, Nikitine says, visited a Yezidi sanctuary in a village 
near Malatia, where on the walls of the house he saw depictions of a 
hippocephalic creature and a bird, which was identified later by Ni- 
kitine as Malak-Tawus, the supreme deity of the Yezidis. Later on, 
Przyluski found in Jaba/justi (1879: 330) a word-entry, k'arnamut, ex- 
plained as "Vane ne meurt pas, a feast, celebrated by the Kurds on the 
20th of March (i.e. "Nawruz")", and commented as k'ar-na-mut "immor- 
tal donkey". These became the basic arguments in favour of le culte de 
Vane, the donkey-worshipping tradition alledgedly once practiced by 
the Kurds. Moreover, Przyluski tried to substantiate his theory by trac- 
ing etymological parallels between the ethnonym Kurd and the Sanskrit 
and Dravidian terms for "ass, donkey", garda(bha), gadaboi, karuda, kadi, 
etc. Nikitine, in his turn, adds the name of a Kurdish mosque near Ush- 
nu in Iran, K'ar-xordn, as if meaning "donkey-eaters" and alluding by 
that to a certain reverence towards this useful beast of burden. 

As a matter of fact, however, the donkey has always been a despised 
animal among the Kurds, a terminus comparationis for illogical behaviour 
and feeble-mindedness. Actually, this whole set of conjectures is a mere 
fantasy and misunderstanding, as there is no Yezidi sanctuary outside 
Lalish; depiction of Malak-Tawus and even its name, are strictly taboo; 
k'arnamut is an Armenian borrowing in Kurdish, from Arm. dial, k'arna- 
mut (literary garnanamut) "the advent of spring"; K'ar-xordn is a deroga- 
tory label given not to the mosque, but to the inhabitants of the village 
itself; etc. 

There are also rumours about the "Christian Kurds". G. R. Driver 
(1922a: 197; cf. also idem 1921: 567) wrote: "... few Kurds belong to either 

21 However, such presumptions still were alive in the beginnings of the 20th 
century, advocated even by such higher rank academic as G. R. Driver, a renowned 
Semitologist (see Driver 1922a: 198). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 19 

the Armenian or the Jacobite Church. It is the Nestorian branch, which 
embraces the largest number of Kurds; ... when a Kurd adopts Christi- 
anity, it is to the Church of Nestorius that he usually turns". 

The reality, however, is that there have never been Christian groups 
among the ethnic Kurds, and no Kurd has ever adopted Christianity ei- 
ther through the Nestorian Church or other confessions. Actually, all 
the so-called "Christian Kurds" mentioned by travellers and accidental 
observers, were Assyrians of different confessions, or kurdophone Ar- 
menians. The same can be said about the "Kurds professing Christian- 
ity" found near Mosul, who were described by the 10th century Arab 
geographer Mas'udT (Schwarz 1929: 865) and the 13th century Italian 
traveller Marco Polo (Marko Polo 1955: 58). According to Schwarz 
(ibid.), the Kurds of Juzaqan 22 tribe, who lived in Hulwan, were also 
Christians. However, Marco Polo (ibid.) clearly notes that the so-called 
"Christian Kurds" of Mosul were Nestorians and Jacobites (for a com- 
prehensive bibliography on the religion of the Kurds, see above). 

Kurdistan — An Imagined Land? 

The term Kurdistan {Kurdistan) belongs to the category of geographical 
names formed with the NPers. suffix -stan and an ethnonym, widely at- 
tested in the Near Eastern region and Central Asia, including the Indian 
subcontinent (cf. Luristan, Balucistan, Turkistan, Hindustan, etc.). It has 
always been a pure ethnographical attribute of various territories in- 
habited by the Kurds, without a political connotation and clearly de- 
fined geographical coordinates (see Qazvlnl 1999: passim; Le Strange 
1915: 108; Bartol'd 1971: 189-197; Bois 1981: 440ff.; Asatrian 2001: 55-56). 
It is usually believed that Hamd-allah MustaufT QazvTnT was the first 
who made use of the term Kurdistan in his Nuzhat-al-qulub (1340). How- 
ever, the earliest occurrences of this geographical name in historical 
sources date back to the 12th century and are attested in Armenian 
texts. Matt'eos Urhayec'i (d. 1138 or 1144), describing the events related 
to the end of the 11th century, writes: Yaysm ami zolov arareal omn Yeh- 
nuk anun, 5000 arambk' gnac'eal i veray K'rdstanac' i gavafn Amt'ay i telin, 

22 The arabicised form of the original *gozakan, from goz "walnut", with the adj. 
suffix -akan, used also as patronymic formant. There are many New Iranian, 
including Kurdish, tribal names derived from botanic terms. Cf., e.g., Kurdish Zf/f(or 
ZTlanlf), from zil "sprout" (< Arm. dial, jil, Class, cil 'id.'; see below); PTvazT, from pivaz 
"onion"; Sipki (or STpkanli), from siping (< *sipik) "meadow salsify"; Mandiki, from 
mandik "watercress" (see below); P'azukT, from p'azuk "an edible herb" (Arm. dial. 
p'azuk; see below); etc. 

20 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

or Cepu-sahar koc'i; ew afeal bazum ew ant'iw awar — oc'xars ew paxresjis ew 
cafays ew ayl bazum awars; ew gayr i berdn, or koc'i Seweraks. Ew hasaner i 
het, or awag er k'rdac'n, orum anun Xalt' asein, ink'n ew iwr erek' ordik'n; ew 
teseal Yehnukn ew iwr zbrk'rx i p'axust darjan — "In the same year (1062- 
1063), a certain Yehnuk conscripted 5000 men [and] went [with them] to 
Kurdistans (sic!), in the district of Amid in a locality called Jebu-shahar; 
and taking a huge and countless booty — small and neat cattle, horses 
and servants and many other trophies, [he] came to a fortress called 
Sewerak. Soon [however], the leader of the Kurds whom [they] called 
Khalt, he himself and his three sons, overtook [Yehnuk]; and having 
seen them, Yehnuk and his army took to flight" (Urhayec'i 1991: 156). 

The toponyms mentioned in the above passage — Amid, near Diyar- 
bakir, and Sewerak (modern Siverek) to the south of Diyarbakir and to 
the north of Urfa (the ancient city of Edessa = Arm. Urha) — point to the 
fact that under the term Kurdistan the Armenian author in the 12th 
century implied an area between Urfa and Diarbekir. Moreover, as indi- 
cates the plural form of the name (Kurdistansl), it could not be a topo- 
nym in the strict sense of the word, but, rather, a conventional attribute 
of the demographic situation of the given territory. The plural forms of 
the georgraphical terms with the suffix -stan in Armenian, as well as the 
names of bigger units, even now show the indefinite and vague spatial 
dimensions. For instance, Rusastanner (pi. form of Russia in Armenian) 
does not mean Russia, but an area to the North of Armenia; or Parskas- 
tanner (pi. form of Persia in Arm.) indicates the south; Mijin Asianer (pi. 
of Central Asia) — the East; Evropaner (pi. of Europe) — the West (like 
Farang in Persian), etc. Therefore, Urhayec'i's K'rdstanac' (ace. pi.) could 
simply be an ad hoc formation by analogy and not an established term. 

Chronologically the second occurrence of the term Kurdistan is at- 
tested in the colophon of an Armenian manuscript of the Gospels, writ- 
ten in 1200. Cf. K'rsitos Astuac awrhne z-xojay Yovhanes muldusin, z-K'rds- 
tanin, or stnc'aw z-surb Avetarans i jerac' aylazgac' — "[Let] Christ-God 
bless Khoja Hovhanes Mughdusi (the one who made a pilgrimage to Je- 
rusalem) from Kurdistan, who took the Holy Gospels from the aliens" 
(Mat'evosyan 1988: 307). Here Kurdistan features in ace. sg. {z-K'rdstanin), 
which does not fit with the context; it must have been, rather, *z-K'rds- 
tanc'in ("Kurdistanian, from Kurdistan"), as an attribute to xojay Yovha- 

In the later periods, from Qazvlni's Nuzhat-al-qulub onward, the term 
Kurdistan occurs in many sources with different contents and geo- 
graphical parameters — more often without a historical basis and demo- 
graphic validity. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 21 

In modern usage — for the most part in the publications of Kurdish 
authors — the term Kurdistan covers a substantial portion of the Near 
East: the whole eastern and central parts of the Republic of Turkey; the 
entire Western Iran — from the north to the south up to the Persian 
Gulf; the northern areas of Iraq and Syria. Sometimes even the western 
regions of the Armenian Republic and Georgia are also included into 
this phantom land. 

"Medians" of the Armenian Sources 

The view on the Median origin of the Kurds has been an important ele- 
ment of the Kurdish social and political discourse since their national 
awakening. The genetic affiliation between the Kurds and their lan- 
guage and the ancient Medians has always been regarded as an absolute 
and incontestable truth for most Kurdish authors (cf., e.g., Wahby 1964; 
Vanly 1988; and many others). In the academic scholarship, as far as I 
know, V. Minorsky was the only adept of this theory (see Minorsky 
1940: 152; on this paper of Minorsky, see Vil'cevskij 1961: 73-79): "L'uni- 
te du kurde — he says — doit s'expliquer par sa base medique", or, more 
categorically: "C'est seulement par la base medique qu'on arrive a expli- 
quer Punite du kurde" (ibid.: 152; see also below, fn. 33). 

Meanwhile, there is no serious ground to suggest a special genetic 
affinity — within North-Western Iranian — between this ancient lan- 
guage and Kurdish. The latter does not share even the generally ephem- 
eric peculiarity of Median, i.e. *hw- > f- development (see Lecoq 1983; 
Skjasrvo 1983; Lubotsky 2002: 19lff.). 23 The Central Iranian dialects, and 
primarily those of the Kashan area in the first place, as well as the Azari 
dialects (otherwise called Southern Tati) are probably the only Iranian 
dialects, which can pretend to be the direct offshoots of Median (on the 
Medians and their language, see D'yakonov 1956; idem 1993; Mayrhofer 
1968; Schmitt 1967; also Asatrian 2009). 

In general, the relationship between Kurdish and Median are not 
closer than the affinities between the latter and other North Western 
dialects — Baluchi, Talishi, South Caspian, Zaza, Gurani, etc. 

Then, what is the main argument or reason on which the idea of the 
Median origin of the Kurds and their language is based? Supposedly, the 
initial incentives for the emergence of such an idea were inter alia sub- 
stantiated by the fact that in the late Armenian sources, especially in 
the colophons of the manuscripts, the Kurds are sometimes referred to 

23 The -f- from *-kw- in Kurd, afir "stable, feeding trough" (< * a-xwar-ana-) is due 
to a secondary development in intervocalic position. 

22 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

as mark' "Medians" or azgn marac' "the tribe of the Medians". 24 Namely 
this phenomenon in the Armenian written tradition is declared by the 
protagonists of the mentioned idea (cf., e.g., Minorsky 1940: 151; idem 
1965: 159, fn. 22; Vanly 1988: 48-49; see also Wahby 1964) as the Argu- 
mentatum primarium in favour of the Median provenance of the Kurds 
(see also below, fn. 33). 

However, the labelling of the Kurds as Medians by the Armenian 
chroniclers is a mere literary device within the tradition of identifying 
the contemporary ethnic units with the ancient peoples, known 
throughout the Classical literature. Tatars, e.g., were identified with the 
Persians, azgn parsic'; Kara-qoyunlu Turkmens were called "the tribe of 
the Scythians", azgnskiwt'ac'woc', etc. (see Xac'ikyan 1955: 3, 469, 532). 

Incidentally, realising that such a naming system can create dubious 
interpretations, the Armenian authors mention, in many cases, the 
authentic name of the given ethnos as a supplement to its so-called 
"Classical" version. Cf. azgn parsic', or koc'i calat'ay — "The Persian tribe, 
which is called Chagatay" (ibid.: 419); azgn marac', or k'urt' koc'i — "The 
tribe of the Medians, which is called Kurd" (ibid.: 332); or t'olum asel z- 
marac' azgac'n, or en k'rdac' — "I will not speak about the tribes of the Me- 
dians, which are [those of] the Kurds" (Daranalc'i 1915: 298); etc. 

It is obvious that by qualifying the Kurds as Medians the late medi- 
aeval Armenian chroniclers simply paid a tribute to Classical literature 
sanctified by the tradition. 

A similar practice of using the ancient ethnica with reference to the 
later communities of different origin has been observed in other tradi- 
tions as well — from the Akkadian (cf. gimirri "Cymmerians", denoting 
Scythians and Sakas) to Byzantine (cf. Bibikov 1982). 

Ethnic names of the Kurds 

a) Kurd 

As is well-known, the term Kurd had a rather indiscriminate use in the 
early mediaeval Arabo-Persian historiography and literature, with an 
explicit social connotation, meaning "nomad, tent-dweller, shepherd" 
(Minorsky 1931: 294; idem 1940: 144-145; idem 1943: 75; Izady 1986: 16; 

24 The common denominations of the Kurds in the mediaeval Armenian sources 
are k'urd (k'urt') and azgn k'rdac' ("the tribe of the Kurds"). In the later texts, the 
Kurds feature also under the names of their tribal groups. Cf., e.g.,yetqy ev ink'n srov 
katarec'aw ijefac' anawrinac', aniceal azgin afoskanic'— "And then, he himself fell by the 
sword in the hands of the infidels, the accursed tribe of the Roshkans (i.e. the RozkT, 
Rozkan(l)i, or Ruzakf, etc. tribal confederation)" (Xac'ikyan 1955: 593). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 23 

Asatrian 2001: 47ff.), as well as "robber, highwayman, oppressor of the 
weak and treacherer" (Driver 1922b: 498ff). 

The earliest occurrence of this term in written sources is attested in 
the form of kurt {kwrt-) in the Middle Persian treatise (Karnamak i Artax- 
sir TPdbakdn), compiled presumably in the second half of the 6th century 
A.D. It occurs four times in the text (Kn. I, 6; VIII, 1; IX 1, 2) in plural 
form, kurtan 25 — twice in conjunction with sah "chieftain, ruler" {kurtan 
sah), once with supanan "shepherds" {kurtan supanan), and only once in a 
bare form, without a supplement. The chieftain or ruler of these 
"Kurds" features as MadTk, which means "Median" (MPers. Mad, or Mah/ 
*May "Media"). It is clear that kurt in all the contexts has a distinct so- 
cial sense, "nomad, tent-dweller". 26 It could equally be an attribute for 
any Iranian ethnic group having similar characteristics. To look for a 
particular ethnic sense here would be a futile exercise. As far as the 
name of the chieftain, MadTk, concerned, it can, to a certain extent, re- 
flect the same narrative device as we observed above when discussing 
the "Medians" in the Armenian sources. 

Chronologically the next appearance of Kurd is again found in Pah- 
lavi literature, in the well-known "Sassanian Lawbook", MatakdanThazar 
datastan, written, according to its editor (Perixanyan 1973: XII-XIIl), 
around 620 A.D. in Fars, possibly in the city of Gor (now Flruzabad). 

The juridical clause (99.8,13) in which the term kurt (kwrt) appears 
twice (once with martdhm "people"), concerns the regulation of norms 
with regard to the transhumant cattle-breeders, who arrive in a new lo- 
cality (or a new pasture, viSanmariTh). It would be strange for a legal 
document of common character, where there is no other ethnonym, to 
include a special clause for a particular ethnic group. Therefore, Icurt in 
the mentioned text must be interpreted as "nomad, tent-dweller", and 
martdhmikurt respectively as "a nomadic group or populace". 

In a later Pahlavi apocalyptic text, an epitome of the Avestan Bah- 
man Yasht, compiled long after the Arab invasion, probably in the 11th 
or 12th century (see West 1880: L ff.), the Kurds are mentioned — to- 
gether with the leathern-belted Turks, Arabs, and Romans — among the 
hordes of demon-races or idolators "with dishevelled hair" (ill, 20, also, 
6, 8 — West, ibid.: 217-223). But, again, there is no way to attribute here a 
certain ethnic affiliation to these "Kurds". Most probably, the term Kurd 

25 H. S. Nyberg (1974: 120-121) proposed for kwrt'n' (kwrtyk'n) the reading kurtf- 
kan and translates it as "slaves; gang of slaves". 

26 Recently, a Polish author (cf. Gacek 2004), analysing the same loci in Karnamak, 
has come generally to a similar conclusion, although with a very limited knowledge 
of the subject and relevant bibliography. 

24 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

must indicate in this text generally hostile and warlike groups like, in a 
way, in the Muslim literature of the time. 

The Pahlavi materials clearly show that kurd in pre-Islamic Iran was 
a social label, still a long way off from becoming an ethnonym or a term 
denoting a distinct group of people. The semantic aspect of its further 
evolution from a social characteristic to an ethnic name is exactly the 
same as in case of many ethnonyms derived from negative markers, at 
least with regard to the later period of the history of this term — since 
mediaeval times till its final crystallisation as an ethnonym. 27 

Along with the narrative Arabo-Persian sources analysed by V. Mi- 
norsky, the term kurd as a common denomination for "nomad, cattle- 
breeder, shepherd" is found in the Classical New Persian poetry. Cf. 
(Dehxoda 1993, sv. kurd): 

Jju JuLs pj> l j i S j.5" >i JU C*-~ia ji 
*J *J Lf* f^' J ^J *ji U* 'j i ji 

"Do not complain in distress, since bring to mind the case, 

When the shepherd (lit. Kurd) was just crying when seeing the wolf, 

who carried away the lamb. 
At the end this lamb would remain in the claws of the wolf, 
if the shepherd (lit. Kurd) would protect it (in such a manner)". 

These lines belong to ibn Yamin, a 13-14th century Persian poet 
from Sabzavar (see Xekmat 1965: 17-52). 

It is also worthy of mention that kurd {kord) in the Caspian dialects 
still in our times is used as "shepherd of small cattle". Cf. the following 
quatrain from a folk song recorded in Marzkuh in the south-western 
shore of the Caspian Sea, near Gorgan: 

Az Tnje ta piset dur bimandom, 

Ze has kigirya kardom kur bimandom; 

27 Cf. the ethnonym of Mards (or Amards), which was, likely, a derogatory term 
before becoming an ethnic name (cf. Av. maraSd- "plague", lit. "killer, destroyer"), if, 
of course, the etymology of W. Geiger (1882: 203) is correct. Mards (Amards) lived in 
various parts of Iranian plateau and Central Asia, including Margiana (Geiger, ibid.: 
203-204). However, it is obvious that they were not a homogeneous people: the 
Mards inhabiting, for instance, Hyrcania (Vrkdna- of OPers. inscriptions) and those 
living in Central Asia or elsewhere might have been of different origin — the com- 
mon ethnonym (udp5oi) seems to have reflected their similar lifestyle and habits 
(see also below, fn. 33). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 25 

Bide dasmal dabandom didagunom, 
Misal-e kord-e bimozdur bimandom. 

"I was left (and stayed) far from you, 
I cried so much that I got blind; 
Give me a kerchief, I will tie my eyes, 

I am (left) like a shepherd (lit. Kurd), who has not received his wages" 

(Pur-karTm 1969:46). 

Kord (kurd) in the South Caspian area seems to denote exclusively 
"shepherd of small cattle" in semantic opposition to gales, "shepherd of 
neat cattle", a fact, which is emphasised almost by all native observers. 28 

The documented history of the term Kurd, as was shown above, 
starts from the 6th-7th centuries A.D. Before that period, there is little 
reliable evidence of its earlier forms. 29 Generally, the etymons and pri- 
mary meanings of tribal names or ethnonyms, as well as place names, 
are often irrecoverable; Kurd is also an obscurity. Its possible connection 
to Xenephon's xapSouxoi must be considered now as obsolete (cf. Pau- 
lys Realencyclopadie, Bd X/2: 1933-1938, s.v.; Mackenzie 1963a: 164, fn. 
4; Vil'cevskij 1961: 112). This view was thoroughly discussed and re- 
jected by Th. Noldeke just on the threshold of the 20th century (Noldeke 
1898; see also Hubschmann 1904: 334). And though some two decades 
later G. R. Driver (1921: 563 ff.; also idem 1923) had attempted to revive 
the Kurd/napSovxoi (Arm. Kordu-k') correlation, nonetheless, it was not 
accepted within iranological academic circles for phonetic and histori- 
cal reasons. 30 

28 Cf. "I must say that in the whole area at the northern foothills of Alborz 
mountain— from Gorgan and Mazandaran till Gilan— the people who are engaged in 
pasturing neat cattle and live by producing milk product, usually are called gales. 
But the shepherds who are occupied in pasturing sheep and goat and making milk 
products from them, are called kord. Therefore, kord and gales are two separate 
terms for two separate occupations" (Pur-karlm 1969: 46). The term gales must be of 
Iranian origin, possibly from Olran. *gawa-raxsaka- "protector of cows" (Asatrian 
2002: 82-83). 

29 There is no need, I think, of mentioning numerous attempts of tracing this 
term to the names of various ancient Near Eastern peoples, having -k-, -g-, -t-, or -d- 
in different combinations. 

M Strangely enough, some authors of the Cambridge History of Iran (see Cook 1985: 
257, fn. 1; and Burn 1985: 354) again maintain the view that the Karduchoi were the 
ancestors of the Kurds. The latter (Burn, ibid.) does not even mention Karduchoi 
when describing the March of "Ten Thousand", using instead just "Kurds" and "Kur- 
destan" (!). 

26 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

Evidently, the most reasonable explanation of this ethnonym must 
be sought for in its possible connections with the Cyrtii {Cyrtaei)/Kvproi 
of the Classical authors (cf. Cyrtii - Liv., XLII, 58, 13; Cyrtaei - Liv. XXXVII, 
40, 9.14; Polyb., V, 52, 5; Kvpnoi - Strabo, XI, 13.3, XV, 3.l), which is the 
name of an ancient and warlike people famous as mercenary slingers 
(uexavdoxai kou AnoxpiKoi). They dwelt in Persia, near Mount Zagros, 
alongside the Mards, and like the latter, lived by robbery. The Kvpnoi, 
according to Strabo, were of the same race (xfjs auxfjs eidiv \5eas) as the 
Mards and (the inhabitants) of Armenia. The Cyrtii are first mentioned 
by Polyb. (ibid.) in 220 B.C. as mercenaries in the service of Molon, the 
ruler of Media, who fought against the Seleucid king Antiochus III (see 
Reinach 1909: 115-119). 

The great German scholar of Armenian origin F. C. Andreas, to whom 
we owe a good many discoveries in Iranian Studies (linguistic attribu- 
tion of the Turfan texts, definition of the Zazas as descendents of the 
ancient Dailamites, etc.), as far as I know, was the first also who pro- 
posed the Kurd/Cyrtii (xupxioi) correspondence (Andreas 1894: 1493; 
idem, apud Hartmann 1896: 96; see also Weissbach 1924; Mackenzie 
1961: 68). This view was supported later by Th. Noldeke who suggested 
*kurt- (perhaps, *kurti'-) as a common proto-form for these two names. 31 

The ethnic territory of the Cyrtii F. C. Andreas localised within the 
borders of the Armenian historical province Korcayk'. The name of this 
province, as he says, is derived from *korti-ayk' {*korti- < *lcurti-); the 
palatalisation of -t-, according to him, is due to the influence of the fol- 
lowing -i: *kwrti- > *korti- > *korc- (Hartmann, ibid.; also Minorsky 1940: 

The theory of F. C. Andreas has been adopted also by Nicolas Adonts, 
who wrote: "Cyrtii lived, together with the Mards, between Mount 
Zagros and Nifat; they inhabited the frontier areas of Armenia to the 
south of the Mards, in the region, which was called later after their 
name, Korcayk' (Korcek'). The Cyrtii are the ancestors of modern Kurds, 
and they must not be confused with the Karduchoi, a people of alien ori- 
gin. The country of the latter was known among the Armenians as Kor- 
duk', denoting, unlike Korcek' (the homeland of the Cyrtii), according to 
P'awstos Buzand, the region of Salinas" (Adonc 1908: 418). 32 

31 Cf. "Kurd ist also aus einer alteren Form kurt entstanden, die uns in der grie- 
chischen Form, vcupxioi begegnet" (Noldeke 1898: 98). 

32 N. Adonts, however, like Hiibschmann (1904: 259), does not accept the etymol- 
ogy of Korcayk', suggested by Andreas. He thinks, it comes from *kortic-ayk' like atr- 
pat-ic, bayhas-ic-k', etc. (ibid., fn. 2; cf. also Hiibschmann 1904: 255-259). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 27 

In any case, if kurd represents, indeed, the later variant of *kurt(i) 
(concealed under Kupxioi), then it would be normal to posit the ques- 
tion of the Kyrtian (Kupxioi)-Kurdish genetic affinity. However, it is be- 
yond doubt that the Kyrtians, as well as the Karduchs and other autoch- 
thonous peoples of the region, were not Iranians (indo-Europeans) at 
all, having inhabited the Iranian plateau long before the Aryan migra- 
tion. In other words, it is unlikely that the Kyritians of Classic sources 
were somatic ancestors of the contemporary Kurds. 33 In addition, the 
ethnic territory of the speakers of Proto-Kurdish dialects lay in the 
south-east (see below), fairly far from the Kyrtians' area of habitation. 

Now, then, how can the genetic continuity between the ethnic 
names *kurt(i) and Kurd be interpreted? I suppose, after the Kyrtians 
disappeared from the historical arena — supposedly at the turn of the 
Christian era — their ethnic name, already an appellative meaning "rob- 
ber, brigand, nomad, warrior, cattle-breeder", continued to exist in the 
lingual landscape of the region. 34 It would already have sounded in the 
Middle Iranian dialects of the time as *kurt (or kurd), as we witness its 
rare occurrences in the 6th-7th centuries Pahlavi writings (see above). 
Seemingly, up to the llth-12th centuries, Kurd was predominantly a so- 
cial characteristic with a certain pejorative connotation, applied gener- 
ally to the transhumant cattle-breeders and tent-dwellers. The question 
when it finally became attached to the forefathers of the contemporary 
Kurds as their ethnonym or a term of collective identity does not have a 
clear answer. At any rate, at least until the 17th century, Kurd had not 
yet become a real term of collective identity, being, rather, a name 
given to the Kurdish-speaking mass (possibly, to non-Kurdish-speaking 
similar groups as well) by the Arabs, Turks, Persians, and Armenians. 
The main markers of identity for this mass were clan affiliation and 

33 E. Grantovskij (1970: 63) believes that the Kyrtians and Karduchs spoke similar 
Iranian dialects close to Median, though there is no serious reason for such a state- 
ment. Moreover, the ethnonyms of these two peoples escape any interpretation on 
Indo-European (Iranian) linguistic grounds. Minorsky also considers the Kyrtians a 
Median-speaking tribe, but closer to Mards (see above, fn. 27). He asserts: "... il est 
tres probable que la nation kurde se soit formee de l'amalgame des deux tribus con- 
geners, les Mardoi et les Kyrtioi qui parlaient des dialects mediques tres rappro- 
ches" (Minorsky 1940: 151-152). 

34 The semantic evolution of *kurt(i) to "robber, nomad, shepherd, etc." resem- 
bles much the history of the term Vandal (Latin Vandalus), which was the name of an 
East Germanic tribal group (Vandali, lit. "wanderers") famous for their warlike spirit 
and aggressive character. Such a phenomenon, though of much later period, can be 
observed with regard to the term kurd (already an ethnonym) in Modern Georgian, 
where it (as hxrdi) simply means "thief, highwayman, robber". 


G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

tribal belonging (see, e.g., Ozoglu 1996: 8-10). It seems, the social aspect 
of the term Kurd was prevalent even in the times of Sharaf Khan (16th 
century), who used the tdyefe-ye akrdd ("race of Kurds") to imply ethnic 
groups of different kinds but with similar lifestyles and social and eco- 
nomic setups. The Kurds, according to him, "are of four kinds {qism), 
and their language(s) and habits are different from each other: first, the 
Kurmdnj; second, the Lur; third, the Kalhor, [and] fourth, the Curdn" 
(Scheref 1862: 13). One thing, however, is certain: the process of the 
evolution of this social term into an ethnonym took, no doubt, a long 
time-span (see Graph l), going through different peripeteia of semantic 
crystallisation and choice of the relevant denotatum or referent. 


{\iexavaaxm kou Ar|GTpiKo{) 

"an ethnic group famous as mercenary 

slingers and robbers" 



Last centuries pre- 
ceding Christian Era 

"shepherds, nomads, tent-dwellers" 

martohm-T kurtan 
"nomadic group, transhumant popu- 

6th-7th centuries 


(Pahlavi texts) 

kurd(an), akrdd 

"nomads, cattle-breeders, brigands, 

robbers, highwaymen" 


centuries A.D. 

(Arabo-Persian texts) 

Graph 1 

b) Kurmanj 

The origin of the Northern Kurds' ethnic name, Kurmanj {kurmdnj), is 
again a puzzle. All hitherto proposed etymologies (Minorsky 1940: 151; 
Eilers 1954: 310-311, also 268-269; Kapancyan 1956: 140, fh. 1; Nikitine 
1956: 12-15; etc.) are equally unacceptable. It has been suggested, for in- 
stance, that kurmdnj may combine Kurd and Mdda "Median" (see Mac- 
kenzie 1981: 479-480); some Kurdish authors even detach the second 
part of the word {-man], or -mdj) as "the ancient name of the Kurds" and 
give it as a separate entry in dictionaries (see, e.g., Hazar 1997: 788, s.v. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 29 

maj). Judging by the outer form of this term, it is, certainly, a compound 
the first part of which can, indeed, be kurd, but the second component 
(-maj) defies reliable interpretation (see below, fn. 35). 

The earliest written evidence of kurmanj goes back to Sharaf Khan 
Bitlisi's Saraf-nameh, compiled at the end of the 16th century. It does not 
occur in the early Armenian texts; we encounter this term in Armenian 
literature only from the 19th century onward. 

It seems, the term kurmanj is a later product, emerging in the north- 
ern areas of Kurdish habitat, in the historical Armenian provinces, after 
the mass penetration of the Kurds to the north, or during their Aufent- 
halt at the southern borders of Armenia. Therefore, I assume that the 
second component of this compound name is possibly of Armenian 
derivation (the first being Jcurd), although I am in a predicament to ex- 
plain it. 35 Anyway, as a matter of fact, kurmanj seems to have been ini- 
tially also a social characteristic meaning "non-tribal peasant; servant; 
shepherd; vagabond; poor person". Cf. the Kurdish saying: Az na kurman- 
je have tamajaz na mot'aje mala tama — "I am not a servant (kurmanj) of 
your father,/ I am not in need of your wealth" (jindi 1985: 200); or K'e 
ditya law bagzada bi kac kurmanja — "Who has (ever) seen a noble guy (lit. 
"son of a Bag") with the girl of a peasant (kurmanj)" (Musaelyan 1985: 

More typical is the following example from a folk song: 

Qjze, fold ta bi xer, 'aydd ta binbdrak! 

Min sah kirita di sar mird girtiydrak. 

Agar zi min cetira, li ta binbdrak,... 

Agar milldya, bi sardd hilsa diwdrak,.. 

Agar kurmanja di mdlindmina barx u kdrak, etc. 

"0 girl, good day, a happy fest! 

As I see, you took, except me, another lover. 

If he is better than me, (then I) congratulate you... 

if he is a Mulla, let a wall collapse on him... 

if he is a shepherd (kurmanj), let his house be deprived of a single 

lamb and sheep" (Musaelyan, ibid.: 34). 

I suspect the same semantics for kurmanj(an) in the famous hemi- 
stich of Ahmede Khani, which is usually used as an epigraph in Kurdish 
patriotic publications. Cf.: 

" From Arm. *k'urd-rnanc, or *k'u/ardi-rnanc' "Kurdish kids -> Kurds" (Arm. mane 
"child, boy, kid")?! 

30 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

Min av nivisi na zi bo sahibrawajan, 
Balklzi bo bicuked kurmanjan. 

"I composed (this poem) not for wealthy people, 
But for the children of the poor". 36 

It is obvious that kurmanj(an) here is clearly opposed to sahibra- 
waj(an) "wealthy (people)", implying "the poor" and is devoid of any 
ethnic sense. 37 

In any case, kurmanj, unlike kurd, has no prehistorical background; it 
must be, rather, a later term begotten, likely, by an Armenian-Kurdish 
social environment. 

Ethnic Territory of the Kurds 

The present state of Kurdological knowledge allows, at least roughly, 
drawing the approximate borders of the areas where the main ethnic 
core of the speakers of the contemporary Kurdish dialects was formed. 
The most argued hypothesis on the localisation of the ethnic territory 
of the Kurds remains D. N. Mackenzie's theory, proposed in the early 
1960s (Mackenzie 1961). Developing the ideas of P. Tedesco (1921: 255) 
and regarding the common phonetic isoglosses shared by Kurdish, Per- 
sian, and Baluchi (*-0r- > -s-, *dw- > d-, *y- >}-, *w- > b-/g-), D. N. Mac- 
kenzie concluded that the speakers of these three languages may have 
once been in closer contact. He has tried to reconstruct the alleged 
Persian-Kurdish-Baluchi linguistic unity presumably in the central parts 
of Iran. According to his theory, the Persians (or Proto-Persians) occu- 
pied the province of Fars in the south-west (proceeding from the as- 
sumption that the Achaemenids spoke Persian), the Baluchis (Proto- 
Baluchis) inhabited the central areas of Western Iran, and the Kurds 
(Proto-Kurds), in the wording of G. Windfuhr (1975: 459), lived either in 
north-west Luristan or in the province of Isfahan. 38 

36 1 was not able to locate this place in M. Rudenko's (1962) edition of "Mam and 

37 It is interesting that in the South Kurdish linguistic area, kurmanj is used to 
designate a segment of the tribal elite. 

38 G. Windfuhr himself tries to localise the Persian-Baluchi-Kurdish triangle of 
contacts in the north-east, in Parthia (ibid.: 465, 467, fn. 11). However, there is no 
authentic evidence of the existence of the Kurds in the north-eastern parts of Iran, 
particularly in Khorasan, before the Safavid period and the times of Nadir Shah. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 3 1 

In a later publication, we added some other isoglosses, at least as 
concerns Kurdish-Persian correspondencies: *-nd- (> *-nn-) > -n- (in de- 
tail Asatrian/Livshits 1994: 96, § XX, 3); *-g- > -w-, a typical South-West- 
ern phonetic peculiarity (ibid.: 87, § VIII, 3; 101; fn. 16); and *-rd/z- > -l- 
(ibid.: 81, 97-98, § XXI, 9, 10). An eloquent testimony of old Proto-Kurd- 
ish-Persian contacts is the word t'er "satisfied, replete" in Kurdish, 
which is obviously an old borrowing from a "Persic" dialect (ibid.: 85, § 
VI, l). 39 

The formation of the ethnic core of the speakers of Proto-Kurdish 
dialects in a predominantly "Persic" environment 40 can be further sub- 
stantiated by other linguistic evidence. Generally, there is a consider- 
able number of South-Western characteristics in the intrinsic structure 
of the Kurdish language, which cannot be considered simply a result of 
mere borrowing. Cf., e.g., the development of Olran. *-dr- > -s- vs. 
"genuine" *-dr- > *-hr- > -r-/-f- (it concerns also North-West Iranian 
Baluchi, which has also its "own" -s- from *-9r-: as "fire" < *adr-). The 
conditions leading to the appearance of a series of evidently original 
forms, though few in number, with *-dr- > -s-, alongside with "normal" 
*-dr- > -r-/-f , are not yet clear: perhaps, there is more than just a dialect 
admixture within Kurdish, or mere borrowing from South-Western 
group. The most symptomatic example is Kurdish pis "son" derived, no 
doubt, from *pudra-, as MPers. pus (NPers. pu/isar), but, in any case, it is 
hardly an ordinary loan-word from (Middle)-Persian. The picture does 
not even change the fact that we have also (b/pi's-Jpor < *{wisa(h)-)pudra-, 
and that the current word for "son" in Kurdish is kuf, from Olran. *kura- 
(Asatrian/Livshits 1994: § VI, 4a, b). 

Almost the same must be said about the transition of the Olran. con- 
sonant group *-rd/z- to -1-, more characteristic for Kurdish than its re- 
tention, which would have been historically justified for a North-West- 

39 For the interpretation of the initial t'- (vs. NPers. s-) one can propose an old 
fricative *d- as a reflex of IE *£-, thus reconstructing a hypothetic OPers. form 
*9agra- (< IE *keqro-). It is, probably, the only way to explain the Kurdish initial t- in 
this lexeme (for all the cases of the development of Olran. *9 in Kurdish, see Asa- 
trian/Livshits, ibid.: 85-86, §VI, 1, 2, 3, 4). Indo-European palatal *R, as is known, is 
represented in genuine Old Persian vocabulary by the fricative *9: data- < IE *fcmto-m 
"hundred" (Av. satdm), vid- < *ui'£-s "house", etc. Such a phonetic feature appears 
also in the old dialect of Shiraz (see Windfuhr 1999: 365). 

40 Windfuhr's statement that "there is no evidence that there was at any time... a 
wide-spread Kurdish-speaking area near Fars" is questionable if we bear in mind the 
whole corpus of the attestations of the term Kurd in Pahlavi and Arabo-Persian nar- 
rative sources — even in case of the indiscriminate use of the term Kurd and the 
prevelance of a social aspect over its ethnic denotation (see, e.g., Driver 1921: 570). 

32 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

ern dialect. In fact, there are only three forms in Kurdish dialects with 
an authentic *-rz- cluster: barz "high" {barzdy "height") <*barz-, bizu 
"mane" < *birm- (on *-rz- > *-rz- > *-£-, see Christensen/Barr 1939: 395), 
and harzin "millet" < *h(a)rzana-. The last, by that, may be even a bor- 
rowing from North-Western lexical elements of New Persian (cf. NPers. 
arzan 'id.'): the "Persic" form is attested in Bakhtiari halum, where the 
suffix -urn is the result of an analogy with gandum "wheat". 

At the same time thirteen lexemes in Kurdish reveal *-l- from Olran. 
*-rd/z- (Asatrian/Livshits 1994: 81, also § XXI, 9, 10). 41 

Thus, the main distinctive phonetic features of the Kurdish dialect 
conglomeration, being definitely North-Western, were, likely, shaped 
within a South-Western milieu. Moreover, the formation of Kurdish has, 
probably, taken place at a far distance from the Caspian region; as we 
have shown elsewhere (Asatrian 1990; idem 1995a: 410), it does not 
share any common isogloss with the dialects of the so-called Caspian- 
Aturpatakan Sprachbund within North-West Iranian (postulated by us in 
the mentioned work), including Talishi, Harzan(d)i, Semnani, Zaza, Gu- 
rani, Mazandarani, Gilaki, and the Azari dialects (Southern Tati). Cf. 

1) Olran. *arma- "forearm": Zaza a/arm, harma(y), Talishi dm 'id.' - vs. 
Kurd, a'nisk, balacaq, NPers. drinj. 

2) Olran. *aus- (< IE *eus-) "burn": Zaza vds-, Vds-, vas-, Harzan(d)i vas-, 
Takestani (and other Azari dialects) vas, ves, Talishi, Vafsi vas-. A very 
rare base in Iranian (cf. Bailey 1967: 263; Scmitt 1971: 54). Armenian has 
atrusan "fire-place", from a MIran. *dtrosdn (< Olran. *dtar- + *-ausdna). 
Kurdish and Persian forms for "burn" go back to *sauk- {sotin, suxtan). 

41 Kurd, parzinm (parzin) "to filter, strain" may not be original as Mackenzie 
(1961: 77) thinks; it is an obvious loan from Arm. parz-el 'id.' (< Parth. *parz-, cf. 
Khwarezmian pzy-/paziy-/ "to purify, clean"). Kurd, parzun "strainer, filter" is also 
an Armenism (< Arm. dial, parzu/on 'id.'). These forms are attested only in Kurmanji; 
in Southern Kurdish we have palawtin, a parallel to Kurmanji palm (palandin)— both 
from Olran. *pari-dawaya-. The long -a- in Kurd, parz- is the main indicator of its Ar- 
menian origin (Arm. -a- normaly gives in Kurdish -a-, and the palatal -a- is reflected 
as short -a-), while as an Iranian form it cannot be justified: *parz- would simply give 
parz- in Kurdish, vs. *pard- (in case of palm), which is regularly resulted in pal-, unlike 
*prd/t- yielding pir- (cf. p'if "bridge" < *prdu-). This conclusion cannot be altered 
even if we adduce Semnani panzon "strainer" (with a short -a- in the first syllable). 
An illustrative example of another pseudo-original word in Kurmanji is sapik "shirt", 
which comes from Arm. dial, sapak (literary sapik 'id.' < MPers. sapik). The genuine 
Kurdish form would have sounded as *savf, cf. Semnani savf, Vafsi ley "shirt". 

As for Kurm. gdzf(kFnn) "to call", its derivation from *garz- (Mackenzie, ibid.: 78) 
is also disputable. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 33 

3) Olran. *bram- "cry, weep" (Parth. bram-): Zaza barm/v-, Mazanda- 
rani barm-, Gilaki barma, Harzan(d)i beram, Talishi bdme, and Semnani 
burme — vs. Kurd, gin; NPers. girya. 

4) Olran. *kanya- "woman, girl" (Av. kaniya-, kaim, Skr. kanyd/a, 
MPers. kanicak, NPers. kaniz): Zaza dene, keyna/a, kayna, Azari dialects 
kina, ana, Gurani kin(a), and Talishi kayna, kina — vs. Kurd, qiz, kac/c, kic, 
do(t), zin; 42 NPers. zan, duxtar. 

5) Olran. *ragu- "quick, swift" (Parth. ray, Arm. a-rag): Zaza fau, Har- 
zan(d)i and other Azari dialects rav, Talishi ra, and Semnani rayk (cf. Os- 
setic raw, rog "light") — vs. Kurd, zu; NPers. zud. 

6) Olran. *kata- "home, house": Zaza ka, ce, kaya, ke, Talishi ka, Gurani 
ka, Azari dialects kar, ka, car, and Semnani kiya — vs. Kurd, mal; NPers. 
xana (kada). 

7) Olran. *upa-sar(a)daka- "spring(time)" (MPers. apsalan, Class. 
NPers. absalan): Zaza usaf(o), vazari, Talishi avasor, Azari dialects avasor, 
etc. — vs. Kurd., NPers. bahar. 

8) Olran. *uz-ayara- "yesterday" (Av. uz-aiiara- "afternoon"): Zaza vf- 
zer(i), vizier, Azari dialects zir, Gurani hxzx, Talishi azxra, and Semnani uzza, 
izT — vs. Kurd, duh (< *dausa-); NPers. diruz (< *dma-ruz); Tajiki dina (< *ud- 
ayana-); cf. also Sogd.'py'r /apyar/ (VJ, 3) < *upa-yara-. 

9) Olran. *xswipta- "milk" (Av. xsuuipta-, Parth. sift): Zaza sit, sit, Gura- 
ni sit, sifta, Talishi sit, Azari dialects set/se(r)t, and Semnani se/at — vs. 
Kurd., NPers. sir (< *xs7ra-). 43 

10) Olran. *warsa- "grass" (Av. vardsa- "plant", Aramaic wrs-(br), 
Parth. vas "fodder"): Zaza vas/s, Talish, Mazandarani vas, Azari dialects 
vas, and Semnani vas(t), vos — vs. Kurd, gxnd; NPers. giyak (or Arab. 'alaf). 

11) Olran. *spaka- "dog": in the Azari dialects and Semnani esba, esbe, 
asba, etc.; Gurani (Awromani) sipa, etc. — vs. Kurd, sa (despite the preser- 
vation of *-sp- cluster in Kurdish, cf. Asatrian/Livshits 1994: 91, §XIII.5); 
NPers. sag (< *saka-); also in Kurdish kutik (< *kuti). 

12) Olran. *nt-nai- (a negative particle): Zaza cinyo/a, Azari dialects 
cini(ya), and cynyh in Azari fahlaviyyat. 

13) An important grammatical isogloss — the present participle with 
the suffix *-nt- as the basic element of the present forms of the verb — is 
observed in almost all the dialects of this inner-Iranian linguistic union. 

42 Kurdish kinik, used in some Kurmanji dialects as a pejorative term for 
"woman", is an adaptation of Arm. dial, kam'k 'id.' (-l'k, with short -i-, instead of *-ik: 
Arm. -l- and -d- give in Kurdish respectively -f- and -(-). 

43 Classical NPers. sift, the name of a juicy fruit, as well as the same form in sev- 
eral fruit- and plant-names (sift-alu, sift-(t)arak, sift-rang) belongs to the North-West- 
ern (Parthian) lexical elements of New Persian, and its primary meaning was "milk". 

34 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

Cf. Zaza barman "I bring", kanndn "I do", Mazandarani kamma "I do", Gi- 
laki duznim "we steal", Semnani xosenm"! sleep", vanni "I speak", annf'T 
go", etc. 

At the same time, Kurdish has several areal characteristics, which 
are not shared by the dialects of the Caspian-Aturpatakan group. Cf., 
e.g., the development of intervocalic *-s- to -h-/-0- (cf. guh "ear" < *gau- 
sa-, duh "yesterday" < *dausa- etc., see Asatrian/Livshits 1994: 92, § XIV. 
2); using a unique lexeme for "black", fas (< *raxsa-), vs. Zaza, Talishi sa, 
Semnani sya (< *syawa-), etc. 44 Also such an important form as the nu- 
meral "three", in all Kurdish dialects represents NPers. se, while most of 
the dialects of the mentioned group have pure NW Iran, forms {hire, 
yare, hara, hayra, etc.). 

Thus, it is beyond doubt that, as was noted above, Kurdish, as a 
North-Western dialect, has been shaped in a South-Western environ- 
ment and, what is more important, the area of its formation was situ- 
ated in a far geographical distance from the Caspian region and Atur- 
patakan. In other words, the most probable option for an ethnic terri- 
tory of the speakers of Kurdish remains the northern areas of Fars in 
Iran, as suggested by Mackenzie. But when did the Kurdish migrations 
to the north begin, particularly to the territories they currently occupy? 
And what were the peripeteia of this demographic displacement? 

Kurds in Armenia. The Emergence of a New Ethno-Demographic Reality 

In all likelihood, the first waves of the northward movement of the 
Kurdish-speaking ethnic mass took place soon after the Arab conquest 
of Iran, in the 8th-9th centuries. Possibly, at the end of the first millen- 
nium and the first centuries of the second millennium A.D., the Kurds 
were already in the north-west of Iran, Aturpatakan, and the Northern 
Mesopotamia, at the borders of Southern Armenia, which is manifested 
by a number of early Armenisms in Kurdish (see below). Kurdish and 
the Caspian-Aturpatakan dialect group (see above) reveal a common 
lexical isogloss, which can be dated by this period of symbiosis (9th- 
12th centuries), namely the term for the "moon" in Kurmanji, hayv (hfv) 
(in South-Kurdish, the "moon" is commonly denoted by mdng(a), which 
sporadically occurs also in Kurmanji). It belongs to a group of words 

44 The Azari dialects (Southern Tati) currently use NPers. syah "black". However, 
in some ancient place-names, like Samaspi (the name of a small village near Ardabil), 
we see the reflexes of the Olran. *syama-. This toponym is derived, possibly, from 
MIran. *Samaspik (an adj. with -\k from Samasp "the one having black horses") = 
Arm. Sawasp. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 35 

widely used, with the same meaning, in Zaza (asmi, dsmi, asma, asma, and 
asma), Azari dialects {osma, usmd), and Talishi ovsim, etc. — all going back, 
probably, to Olran. *waxsa-/uxsya-mahka- "the full moon". Among the 
Middle Iranian dialects, this term is attested only in Pahlavi (Psalms) as 
ayism. The change of the *-sm- cluster to *-(h)v-, based on the Armenian 
early borrowings in Kurdish (see below), can be dated to the llth-12th 
centuries. After that period this phonetic rule was already extinct. 

Mackenzie (1961: 86) believes that the displacement of the Zazas 
from their homeland in Delam (Arab. Dailam, on the southern shore of 
the Caspian) to the west, the areas of their present habitation in Central 
Anatolia, occurred under the pressure of the northward drive of the 
Kurds on their route to Armenia. 45 

Actually, it is possible to assume that a considerable part of the 
Kurdish-speaking elements was concentrated at the frontier zones of 
Southern Armenia (Northern Iraq, Hakkari, southern shore of Lake Van, 
etc.) already in the 10th-12th centuries (for the dispersion of the ethnic 
elements labelled by the Arab geographers of the 10th-14th centuries as 
Kurds, see Driver 1921). Yet, the mass inundation of the territories to 
the north, including Armenia, by them took place later — starting from 
the first decades of the 16th century, conditioned mainly by the specific 
policy of the Ottoman Government aimed at the creation of an anti-Sa- 
favid stronghold at the eastern borders of the Empire. The resettlement 
of the warlike Kurdish tribes was an idea conceived by Mullah idris Bit- 
lisi who himself coordinated the process in the first stages of its realisa- 
tion (in particular, see Nikitine 1956: 161 ff.; Asatrian 1986: 168). Nicolas 
Adonts, in one of his important articles (Adonz 1922: 5), formulated 
these events in the following way: "The Kurds had not existed in Arme- 
nia from immemorial times, but were driven there by the Turkish 
authorities. The Turks took possession of Armenia after the battle of 
Chaldiran in the year 1514, defeating the troops of Shah Isma'il of Persia 
thanks to their artillery, which was employed for the first time. The 
Persians and the Turks continued to contend for Armenia, but in the 
end, the frontiers remained the same as they are today. Mullah idris, a 
Kurd from Bitlis, who as a native of the country was well-acquainted 
with the local conditions, took an active part in the military operations 

45 Minorsky (1932), however, conditioned the migrations of the Dailamites by 
the demographic processes occurring within Delam proper. The Armenian histori- 
ography of the llth-13th century (Aristakes Lastivertc'i, Asolik, Matt'eos Urhayec'i, 
and Vardan Barjraberdc'i) provides interesting evidence on the active participation 
of Dailamites (delmikk') in the historical events of the time in Armenia and Aturpata- 
kan (see Saldzyan 1941; Yuzbasyan 1962). 

36 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

of Sultan Selim... (He) supported the interests of the petty chiefs of the 
Kurdish tribes". According to Adonts (ibid.), the Turks, unlike the Per- 
sians — who used to brutally suppress the centrifugal tendencies of the 
Kurds — maintained the policy of ceding the Western Armenian lands to 
Kurdish tribal aristocracy in order to involve their military force against 
the Persians. 46 

This was, in fact, the real picture of the initial stage of the total 
Kurdisation of Western Armenia or Turkish Kurdistan, 47 as it is often 
called now, finally resulting in the extermination of the entire indige- 
nous population of the area at the end of the 19th and the first decades 
of the 20th century. 

The term Kurd was unknown to 5th century Armenian historiogra- 
phy, as well as to the authors of the 7th-8th centuries (Sebeos, Levond); 
and even the chroniclers of the lOth-llth centuries, Hovhannes Drasx- 
anakertc'i, Asolik, Tovmay Arcruni, and Aristakes Lastivertc'i, do not 
have any information about the Kurds. In the case of the appearance of 
any, even a tiny number of the Kurds in Armenia, the Armenian histori- 
ographers — very sensitive towards alien ethnic elements — surely would 
have recorded them in one form or another, even without any political 
event connected with them or in which Kurds were involved. 48 The 
Kurds (termed as k'urd, k'urt', or mark'), started to appear in Armenian 
historical annals later — since the 12th-14th centuries — mostly in the 
specimens of a minor literary genre, in the colophons of manuscripts 
reflecting political events of a local character (see above). 

On the whole, there are no written sources on the early history of 
Kurdish-Armenian relations, particularly concerning the gradual move- 
ment of the Kurds to the north. However, linguistic materials offer a 
bulk of reliable data, making it possible to reconstruct a more or less 

46 On the expansion of the Kurds in Armenia, see also Nikitine 1956: 161: "Les 
Kurdes s'emparaient ainsi, peu a peu de certaines parties du royaume armenien qui 
finit son existence au XI e siecle. Dans beaucoup d'endroits, les Kurdes ne sont done 
pas en Armenie sur leur sol natal, mais il s'agit la d'un processus historique qui se 
poursuivit depuis de longs sieles" (for some notes on this issue, see also Mokri 1970: 

47 The beginning of this process may be illustrated by the case of the Rozhikis, a 
tribal confederation in Bitlis, whose language (or, rather, that of a group of them), 
as recorded by the 17th century Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi, represented an 
admixture of Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish words (see above, sub "Literature"). 

48 The alleged presence in the 10th century of the Ravandl tribe in Dvin, who are 
said to have been the ancestors of the famous Salah-al-dln al-Ayyubl, has, most 
likely, been a sporadic and insignificant demographic phenomenon, having left no 
trace in the Armenian annals of the time. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 37 

clear account of the historical realities of the period — at least as a gen- 
eral outline. 

Linguistic Data as Historical Evidence 

As is well-known, contacts of peoples are usually mirrored in linguistic 
evidence of various types: lexical borrowings, change of phonetic sys- 
tems, adoption of new grammatical forms (very often syntactic con- 
structions), etc. However, for a historian, the lexical aspect of linguistic 
interrelations is of main interest. 

The entire history of Armenian -Kurdish relations — from its very be- 
ginning in the llth-12th centuries up to the 19th century — is conse- 
quently reflected in the lexicon of Kurdish (Kurmanji) in accordance 
with the intensivity and character of the contacts. From the early pe- 
riod we have only 13 reliable Armenian loanwords in Kurmanji — 6 
plant-names and 7 appellativa (see below); but the later epoch of Kurd- 
ish-Armenian common history (l6th-19th centuries) — the time of most 
intensive contacts — is manifested by more than 300 items (for a com- 
prehensive study of the Armenian vocabulary in Kurdish, see Asatrian, 
"Kurdish and Armenian", forthcoming). The Armenian words of Kurdish 
origin (only in Western Armenian dialects) are relatively few in num- 
ber — not more than 100, and all of them, except one, belong to the later 
period (see Asatrian 1992). 

The single Kurdism of the earlier period in Armenian, gydv "step, 
pace" (< Kurd, gdv/w < Olran. *gaman-), is found in the southern dialects 
of Kurmanji (shatakh, Van, and Moks), in the area around Lake Van. The 
factor indicating its old age is the quality of the radical vowel. Kurdish 
long -a- is regularly featured in Kurdish loan-words as -a-, while the 
short -a- is reflected as -a- (cf., e.g., Arm. dial. kavar < Kurd, kdvir "two 
year old ram", but bdz(n) < Kurd, bazn "stature", etc.). This phonetic rule 
has no exclusions. The palatalisation of -a- in the above form can be in- 
terpreted only in terms of the "Acharian's Law", which was in effect 
during the llth-12th centuries (Acarean 1952: 16-27; also Muradyan 
1973). The "Law" purports that in the position after the voiced plosives 
(from the Classical Arm. respective phonemes), or voiceless plosives 
(again from the corresponding Class. Arm. voiced plosives), -a- has been 
palatalised in Armenian dialects, mostly in those near Lake Van. It is 
reasonable to assume, therefore, that Kurd, gov could become gydv in 
Armenian — instead of expected *gav — only during the period of the 
llth-12th centuries when the "Acharian's Law" was a functioning pho- 
netic rule. 

38 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

The evidence obtained from the above analysis enables us to define 
the relative chronology of an important phonetic peculiarity of Kurdish, 
namely the change of the Olran. intervocalic *-m- to -v-/-w- (see above), 
which helps, in its turn, to date a number of early Armenisms in Kurdish 
(see below). This phonetic rule was markedly active in the period fol- 
lowing the Arab conquest of Iran until, at least, the 12th century (as we 
see in Kurd, gov > Arm. gydv), and influenced all Arabic loan-words en- 
tering Kurdish during that period (cf. hav/wir "dough" < Arab, xamir, 
jivat "assembly" < Arab, jama'at, tawdw "full, complete" < Arab, tamdm, 
etc.). The Arabic or Armenian elements borrowed after the 12th century 
retain intervocalic -m- (cf. Kurd, tamdm < Arab, tamdm; jamidin "suffer 
from the cold" < Arab, jamada- "to freeze"; kdm "an agricultural instru- 
ment" < Arm. kdm(n); dmdn "vessel, pot" < Arm. aman, etc.). The same 
concerns Persian loan-words (cf. Kurd. zavT "sown field, soil, land" 49 < 
NPers. zamin; ziv "silver" < NPers. sim; etc.). There are also doublets of 
the original (or early borrowings from NPers.?) and later Persian vari- 
ants of the same lexeme in Kurdish (cf., e.g., siwurl, sivora "squirrel", vs. 
simora 'id.', MPers., NPers. samor "sable (marten)", Arm. samoyr 'id.'; xav 
"unripe", vs. xdm, NPers. xdm; etc.). Doublets of Armenian loan-words of 
earlier and later periods, too, can be found in Kurdish (e.g., gov/gom; see 
below). It is highly symptomatic that among the Turkic borrowings in 
Kurdish no single form revealing the *-m- > -v-/-w- change is seen, 
which means that the Kurds came into closer contacts with the Turks in 
a period when this phonetic rule was already extinct, i.e. in a time-span 
following the 12th century. 

The Names of Wild Flora 

A considerable number of lexical items (35 units) in the corpus of Ar- 
menisms in Kurmanji constitute the plant-names, borrowed either 
through direct contacts or as a result of the assimilation of the local 
population into the Kurdish new-comers. Actually, these terms repre- 
sent, as a whole, a lion's share in the botanical nomenclature of North- 
ern Kurmanji. And in this respect, we come to an interesting finding. 
The names of wild plants, unlike those of cultural herbs, are an insepa- 
rable part of the physical and linguistic landscape of a given locality, 
like place-names, oronyms, and hydronyms. It is not accidental that in 
most living languages of the world the names of plants — mainly wild 

49 The original Kurdish synonyms of this form are xwali, xol (< Olran. *Jiwarda-) 
and ax (< *aika-; cf. Av. di, Parth. ayag, and NPers. xdk) . 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 39 

growing ones — belong to the substrate vocabulary. 50 Nothing can be 
more effective for defining the ancient ethno-linguistic affiliation of a 
given territory than the study of the toponymical system and the names 
of wild flora in the language of its inhabitants. 51 

The majority of Armenian phytonyms found in Kurmanji can be 
dated back to not earlier than the 16th century. Only six names are 
manifestly of older age. 

a) Early Borrowings 

1) tin is the only term for "grapes" in Kurmanji dialects, attested 
also in Sorani, tire, though, in the latter, with a limited usage compared 
to hangur. — From Arm. *tdli; cf. Middle Armenian toli (toyli) 'vine'. The 
modern dialects of Armenian use this term in the meaning of "bottle 
gourd (Lagenaria sp.)", from which we have tolik "mallow" (see the next 
item). Arm. toli is, likely, a substrate word; cf. Urartian uduli "grapes" 
(Lap'anc'yan 1961: 330); also (GIS) ti'Hatu "vine" in Akkadian (Mkrtcyan 
1983: 35). The Udi tal 'id.' comes, probably, from Armenian. 

In the 16th-17th centuries, tin was already a widespread lexeme in 
Kurmanji, attested also in the poetry of Faqiye Tayran, a prominent 
author of that time (see above). Cf.: Bihonya li ta tiri (zi) razT — "(The time 
of taking) grapes from the vine is (already) passed for you" (Rudenko 
1965: 49). Therefore, it seems the word to have been borrowed before 
the mentioned period, at least one or two centuries earlier. 

2) tolik "mallow (Malva sylvestris L.)"; also in the Southern dialects 
tolaka 'id.'; cf. the Kurm. saying: Mind a'rabe cav tolike k'ava = "to look at 
something with greed or passion", lit. "Like an Arab (when he) looks at 
the mallow". 52 — Is taken from the Middle Armenian toli (see the previ- 
ous item) probably during the 14th-15th centuries, for in New Armenian 
dialects it has different phonetic manifestations. The semantic aspect, 
however, is not clear: in Middle Armenian, toli meant "vine" — according 
to a 13th century text, in which it is attested (Acarean 1979: 416). We 
can assume then that in the Armenian dialects of the time, from which 
the word has penetrated into Kurmanji, it was used in other meanings 
as well, including "mallow" and "bottle gourd". 

50 For instance, in Armenian, many of floristic names come from the Hurro- 
Urartian lexical ingredient of this language, or have no etymology at all (see, e.g., 
Mkrtcyan 1983) 

51 Most toponyms of the former Turkish Armenian provinces are of Armenian 
origin (except for a part of micro-toponymy of apparently later period). 

52 The Kurds generally believe that the Arabs are great fans of the mallow. 

40 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

3) p'injdr "a common term for wild edible plants (raw or cooked)" — 
a wide-spread lexeme in Kurmanji, also attested in many Turkish dia- 
lects, including Ottoman Turkish (Pedersen 1904: 463; Dankoff 1995: 26), 
as well as in Georgian. — From Arm. dial, p'dnjar (class. Arm. banjar) 'id.'. 
Lacks an etymology (see Acafean 1971: 409). 

The reason why p'injdr is regarded as a pre-16th century Arm. loan- 
word in Kurmanji is that it presently has a fairly wide occurrence in 
Khorasani Kurmanji in the form of p'enjor "spinach" (from my field 
notes). The main part of the Kurdish population of Khorasan, as is 
known (cf. Madih 2007), was relocated there at the very end of the 16th- 
beginning of the 17th century from an area covering the Lake Van basin 
(ibid.: 15). We may assume, therefore, that this lexeme, already at that 
time, had an established usage in Kurmanji with, possibly, two-three 
century-long historical background of borrowing. 

4) anex "mint" is attested only in Khorasani Kurmanji (the author's 
notes) being, probably, lost in other dialects of Kurmanji. 53 — From Arm. 
dial, anex (class. Arm. ananux) 'id.' (Acarean 1971: 180). According to 
Igor' D'yakonov (Diakonoff 1985: 599), Arm. ananux is a Hurrian sub- 
strate element: from *an-an-uh}p. 

5) p'azuk "an edible herb"; also in Turkish pazuk "beet" (Dankoff 
1995: 23). — Arm. dial, p'azuk (cf. Middle Arm. bazuk) "beet"; in Classical 
Arm. bazuk means "arm, forearm" (Benveniste 1959: 62-72). The tribal 
name PazukJ (see above, fn. 22), already attested in the Saraf-nameh by 
Sharaf Khan Bitlisi (Scheref 1862: 328 ff.), is a direct testimony to the 
earlier period of the borrowing of this Armenian form in Kurdish. 

6) zil(ik) "sprout, scion". — Arm. dial, jil (class. Arm. cil) < IE *gei-/*gi- 
"keimen, sich spalten, aufbliihen" (Pokorny 1959: 355; see also above, fn. 
22). Its earliest occurrence seems to have been found in a Kurdish 
compound, jdje-zil ("sort of a cheese made with wild herbs"), which is 
recorded by the 17th century Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi in his 
Seyahatname (see Safrastyan 1967: 188). The first part of the compound 
is Kurd. ja]T(k)/zazT(k) "curds, cottage cheese" < Olran. *yzaraa- (*yzar- 
"flow (about milk)"), cf. sar {sare sir "spurt of milk from cow's teat") < 

b) Later Borrowings 

The rest of the Armenian plant-names in Kurdish are of evidently 
later origin — borrowed, presumably, during a time-span between the 
17th and 19th centuries. The list includes 29 items. 

53 But widely occurs in Turkish dialects (see Biasing 1992: 28). 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 41 

1) dear "spelt, dinkel wheat"; nam dear "spelt bread". — From Arm. 
dial, acar 'id.', Class. Arm. hacar "sort of grain". Etymology unknown; 
probably, a substrate word in Armenian; cf. Abkhaz acaraj, Abazin hazr- 
rii, Laz cuari — all denoting "grain". 

2) cTl(o),jil(ik) "bough, branch, scion". — Arm. dial. cil,Jil "reed; vine; 
sinew". Arm. cil is from Georg. cili, contaminated subsequently with the 
original Arm. jil/l "sinew, tendon" (< IE *g-islo-). 

3) cimeruk "sort of winter pear". — Arm. dial, cdmervk (jmarnuk) 'id.', 
a suffixal form ofjmern "winter", with -uk (see below, No 12). 

4) ddregdn "rye". — Arm. dial, daregan 'id.', from tari "year" + the Iran, 
suffix -akan. 

5) ginz "coriander". — Arm. ginj 'id.' (see Henning 1963; Benveniste 
1970: 2l) with the regular Arm. -j- > Kurd, -z- development (see below, 
No 16). 

6) kdkdc "poppy". — Arm. kakac' 'id.'. No etymology. 

7) korek, korik, kurik "millet". — Arm. dial, korek 'id.', Class. Arm. 
koreak. The origin remains obscure. 

8) kuri/mgdn "alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)". — Arm. dial, kiird/ingan 
'id.'. No etymology. 

9) mdmur "moss". — Arm. mamuf "id." < IE *m(e)us-7 (Gamkrelidze/ 
Ivanov 1984: 663-664). 

10) mandak, mandik "kind of edible herb, sort of watercress" (see 
above, fn. 22); also in Southern Kurdish mande, manduk "type of grass, 
provender", and in the dialects of Turkish mandik, mande/o. — Arm. dial. 
mandak (also mandak) "bulbous chervil, parsnip chervil (chaerophyllum 
bulbosum L.)". The etymology is unknown, though there is no reason to 
separate it from Ossetic mantdg, mdnt, Balkar mant, and Svan mant — all 
meaning edible wild plants. Here also, probably, Arm. matatuk "liquorice 
(Glycyrrhiza L.)", Ossetic mdtatyk "Meadow Gras, Kentucky Blue Grass 
(Poa pratensis L.)", and Georg. mat'it'ela "Knotweed (Polygonum avicu- 
lare L.)". Probably a regional lexeme; cf. Latin menta, Greek p,ivdn, re- 
garded by Ernout/Meillet (2001: 398) as a Mediterranean lexical rem- 

11) marx "juniper tree". — Arm. dial, marx (class. Arm. maxr) "resin- 
ous conifer, pine", from Hurrian mahri "fir, juniper" (Greppin/Diakonoff 

12) mdzmdzuk "a fibrous edible plant", possibly "Adiantum sp.". — 
Arm. dial, mazmaziik 'id.', a reduplicated form of Arm. maz "hair", with 
the suffix -uk, a general marker of plant-names in Armenian (see Asat- 
rian 1999-2000b). 

42 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

13) osuzdyig "gentian". — From Arm. dial, oc'ujayig 'id.', lit. "snake 
flower" (cf. oji de\ 'id.', lit. "snake medicine"). 

14) pocik "rye", or "oats". — Arm. dial, poc'uk "type of wild plant", 
from poc' "tail" + -uk (see above No 12). 

15) p'us "thorn, firewood". — From Arm. p'us 'id.'. The genuine Kurd- 
ish terms for "thorn" are strT < *sru- (Asatrian/Livshits 1994: § XIII, 6), 
and ziwan < Olran. *uz-wana- (Vahman/Asatrian 2004: 240-241). 

16) sdv/war, zdvdr "wheat-meal"; widely occurs in all Kurdish dia- 
lects, as well as in Turkish (Dankoff 1995: 93-94). — Arm. javar, dial, c'avar 
'id.'; possibly from IE *ieuo- (Dzahukyan 1967: 263-264). 

17) k'drnuk "a wild edible plant used in cheese-making". — Arm. dial. 
k'arnuk 'id.', lit. "lamb" (gafnuk). 

18) masur "rosehip". — Arm. masur 'id'. No etymology. 

19) sinz "goat's beard (Tragopogon sp.)". — Arm. sinj 'id.'. The Arm. 
word must be considered in a group of similar forms in Iranian: Ossetic 
sin(j)d "thorn, thorny plant", Baluchi sinz "bush", Kurd. s(i)ping "type of 
wild plant, meadow salsity", Semnani senga "garlic-like plant", Savei 
sang "an edible herb", Sorani Kurdish sing "goat's bird", and, possibly, 
NPers. esfendx/J "spinach", etc. A regional lexeme, or from Olran. *spin- 
ti? NPers. esfendx/j (Arm. spanax) < MIran. *spindk? 

20) halandor "type of wild plant used in food"; recorded also in 
Talishi halendor 'id.'. — From Arm. halandor, also xdhndor, etc. 'id.'. Most 
probably a Hurrian word, as the ending shows (cf. Hurr. -uri/-ori/, at- 
tested in Arm. xnjor, salor, etc.; see below, No 24). 

21) kdkil, kakel "kernel of a nut, walnut". — Arm. dial, kakel, kakdl 
'id.'. An Arm. ideophone. 

22) soyik "ramson (Allium ursinum L.)". — From Arm. dial. sox-ik{-uk) 
"type of herb" (cf. Arm. sox "onion"). The Arm. -x- > Kurd, -y- change 
has, probably, taken place under the influence of Turk, sogan "onion". 

23) spidak "kind of wild plant". — Arm. dial, spidak 'id.'; cf. spitak 
banjar "sort of edible herb of white colour" (Arm. spitak "white"). 

24) silor "plum". — Arm. dial, salor, Classical Arm. salor). A typical 
Hurrian form with the ending -uri/-ori (see Mkrtcyan 1983: 33-34). 

25) xdvezil(dn) "rhubarb". — Arm. dial, xavarcil 'id.', Class. Arm. 
xawarci (for details, see Acarean 1973: 351-352). 

26) xirpuk "oats". — Arm. dial, xarpulc. 

27) xung "incense". — Arm. dial, xung, Class. Arm. xunk (< Iran). 

28) xfru, hxrb, hiru "ox-eye, mallow-flower". — Cf. Arm. dial, xiru, 
heryu, haru, hir(ik) — all are the names of various flowers. 

29) halhalok "type of red colour berry". — Cf. Arm. dial, halkolik 
"seeds", halori "mandrake", haliz and halinc — unidentified plant-names. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 43 


Along with the numerous Armenian loan-words of later origin (see 
above), as well as the plant-names just mentioned, Kurmanji vocabulary 
reveals a number of other Armenian terms dating from the llth-12th 
centuries (5 items) and 15th-17th centuries (2 items). 

1) Kurd, gov/w, guv/w "cattle-shed, sheepfold, sheep-cote, stable"; 
also Turkish kom, kon 'id.' (Tietze 1981: 181; Dankoff 1995: 37); Georgian 
gomi, gomuri, as well as Ossetic gom/n 'id.' (Miller 1927: 397-398; Abaev 
1958: 523-524). — From Arm. gom, dial, gum, with regular Kurdish change 
of -m- to -v-/-w- in the lexemes of the earlier periods — either original or 
borrowed (see above). Kurd, gov/w is found in the southern Kurmanji- 
speaking area; in the north, the latter variant of the same lexeme, gom, 
prevails. This lexeme {gov/ gom) appears to be a common isogloss for the 
entire dialect continuum of Kurmanji, for in the Southern dialects 
(Sorani), no trace of it has ever been recorded. 

Arm. gom is derived, most likely, from IE *ghomo-. S. Wikander (i960: 
9, fn. 3) believes that Arm. gom and the respective form in Georgian 
come from Kurd, gbv/m, which is, of course, untenable. 

2) dirdv "coin". — Arm. dram/ddram/, with -m- > -v- development 
(see the previous item). Armenian form is from MPers. drahm (NPers. 
dirham). if the word was borrowed from Persian, it would have been 
*dz'rav, or *diram (if taken later). The long -a- in the second syllable 
markedly points to the Armenian source, as Arm. -a-, as was already 
discussed above (see above, fn. 42), gives long -a- in all positions in 
Kurdish (cf. dg "wheel" < Arm. dial, ag {ak); dgos "furrow, trench" < Arm. 
dial, agos {akos), sdvdr < c'avar (Javar); etc.). The NPers. short -a-, as the 
Arm. dial, -a-, is normally reflected in Kurdish as short -a-/ -a-/. 

3) di/uruw "sign, mark; omen". — Arm. dial, danism, darosm, etc. 
(class. Arm. drosm) 'id.', with the regular -sm- > -v-/-w- development in 
Kurdish (Asatrian/Livshits 1994: §§ X, 5, XIV, 2, XIX, 3). Hardly from 
NPers. dirafs (or dims), otherwise the Kurdish form would have been 
*di/uro(h) (Asatrian/Livshits, ibid.: §XIV, 2). Another variant of the same 
Arm. lexeme, dirusm, borrowed later, is attested in the dialect of 
Suleimaniye, Iraq (Mackenzie 1967: 413). 

4) k'ul{ik) "hut, shack". — The word is taken from Arm. xul 'id.', with 
the development of the initial x- to k'-, during a period when the Class. 
Arm. I had not yet changed to fricative y, i.e. before the 12th century 
(see Acarean 1979: 648-654). Thus, in addition, we can attest that the 
regular transformation of Olran. initial *x- to k-/k'- (Asatrian/Livshits 
1994: §X, l) in Kurdish was still active in the 11th century. 

44 G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 

5) k'ol "female hair necklace". — From Arm. k'ol (modern dial, k'oy) 
"cover, hairnet; mesh". Based on the Arm. dial. I = Kurd. -I correspon- 
dence, the borrowing, it may be concluded, must have taken place be- 
fore the 12th century (see the preceding item). 

Two more terms — the names of Christian artefacts — xac/c "cross" 
(<Arm. xac') and k'ingox {k'ink'oy) "headgear of Armenian monks" 
(< Arm. kngvl/kdnguy/) have attestations in the literary monuments in 
Kurmanji and are still in use, particularly in folklore (for details, see 
Asatrian 1986: 173-174; idem 2001: 65-66). 

Concluding Remarks 

The thorough review of nearly all relevant aspects of the field eluci- 
dates a number of important issues concerning the ethnic history, iden- 
tity, religion, language, and literature of the Kurds, simultaneously ex- 
panding the basic methodological concepts upon which further re- 
search should be grounded. The linguistic findings and evidence of his- 
torical sources — though fragmentary — particularly contribute to a more 
authentic understanding of Kurdish prehistory and related topics. 

The ethnic territory of the Kurds turns out to have been much fur- 
ther south than the present geography of their habitation. 

The term Kurd, in a closer scrutiny, appears to have been initially a 
social label, although originating from an ancient ethnonym. As for the 
ethnonym Kurmanj {kurmanj), it becomes apparent that it must be re- 
garded as a later product emerging from a Kurdish-Armenian social mi- 

The analysis of the extant data — mostly linguistic — creates a solid 
base for defining the relative chronology and possible routes of the 
northward movements of the Kurds, resulting, consequently, in their 
mass influx into the historical Armenian lands — an event, which took 
place presumably not earlier than the 16th century. The earliest Kurd- 
ish-Armenian relations, having seemingly had a character of sporadic 
contacts, as clearly manifested by the lexical borrowings, must be dated 
back to the llth-12th ceturies, the area of encounter most likely being 
somewhere near the Lake Van basin and to the south. 

G. Asatrian / Iran and the Caucasus 13 (2009) 1-58 45 


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